Emma Raducanu completed her perfect run in New York by winning the US Open title on Saturday, defeating feisty Canadian Leylah Fernandez in front of a packed and roaring Arthur Ashe Stadium, and she still has yet to drop a set.
I think to pull off some of the shots I did in the big moments when I really needed it was just an accumulation of everything I've learnt in the past five weeks. I think what I did very well this tournament was press in the moments that I really needed to. I guess that's why I didn't drop a set on paper, even though all of the matches were extremely challenging. Emma Raducanu
So much history is being made as Raducanu’s fairytale visit to the Big Apple comes to an end, just 3 short months since the 18-year old made her main draw debut on the WTA Tour in Nottingham.
In fighting off Fernandez, 6-4 6-3, in the all-teenage final, Raducanu came through qualifying, winning 10 straight matches to hoist her first Grand Slam trophy aloft as the accolades poured in, making history by becoming the first qualifier to win a major singles title.
“I’m still just so shocked, still in the moment,” Raducanu said on Amazon Prime. “I can’t believe I came through that last service game.
“It honestly means absolutely everything to hold this trophy. I just don’t want to let go.
“Yesterday and this morning there were a few weird feelings that I couldn’t put my finger on, I didn’t know what it was, but I think that’s just normal and when I came out on court I felt completely at home, business as usual, I was just focusing one point at a time.
“I think the level was extremely high, both of us were playing unbelievable tennis. I had to fight really hard to cling onto that first set, and then just keep my nose in front in the second.”
Raducanu ticks all the boxes, both on and off the court, with her all-court aggressive game, nerves of steel and poised demeanour.
She is the first woman to win the US Open without dropping a set since Serena Williams in 2014, and the youngest Grand Slam champion since Maria Sharapova won 2004 Wimbledon aged 17.
Ranked World No 150, Raducanu, who is also the lowest-ranked player to win the US Open title since an unranked Kim Clijsters earned the first major of her comeback in Flushing Meadows in 2009, is projected to rocket to World No 23 in Monday’s new rankings.
“With each match and tournament and week, I think I’ve really built in terms of confidence, in terms of my game, in terms of my ball striking,” Raducanu said. “Everything came together today.
“I think to pull off some of the shots I did in the big moments when I really needed it was just an accumulation of everything I’ve learnt in the past five weeks.
“I think what I did very well this tournament was press in the moments that I really needed to.
“I guess that’s why I didn’t drop a set on paper, even though all of the matches were extremely challenging.”
Raducanu is the first British woman to win a Grand Slam singles title since Virginia Wade made history by winning Wimbledon in 1977 in front of The Queen, who was among the first to congratulate the Briton.
Wade, who also won the first of her 3 Grand Slam singles titles in New York in 1968, was cheering Raducanu on from the President’s Box, delighted at the youngster’s triumph.
“It means so much to have Virginia here, and also Tim [Henman],” said Raducanu before receiving the trophy from Billie Jean King. “Just to have such British legends and icons for me to follow in their footsteps, it definitely helps and gave me the belief that I could actually do it.”
There was no sign of nerves or fatigue as both Raducanu and Fernandez started strongly, the Brit getting the better of the Canadian by breaking her at her first opportunity after 5 deuce points.
While Fernandez broke straight back, the Raducanu serve was tangibly the stronger of the two in the opening set, and when she broke the Canadian a second time in the 10th game, she had converted her 4th set point with a forehand winner.
Fernandez’s last 4 victories en route to the final included wins over 3 of the 5 top seeds, all coming in 3 sets, and when she broke Raducanu in the second to take a 2-1 lead, it looked as though the final might also be heading towards a decider.
Raducanu had other ideas, though, having squandered game points in 2 of those 3 games, and with extraordinary resolve, she immediately proceeded to reel off 4 straight games punctuated by glittering rallies to leave Fernandez serving to stay in the match at 2-5 down.
The young and diminutive Canadian clung on, again showing her mettle by saving 2 match points with a cheeky smile and holding for 5-3.
She then garnered a break point in the next game after a stunning rally, which left Raducanu careening across the court, scraping her knee in the process as she slid to retrieve a backhand.
As Raducanu moved to the baseline to serve, it was clear that blood was streaming from the wound and a medical timeout was called to stem the flow and apply a dressing.
The delay clearly irritated Fernandez, who had an animated discussion with WTA Tour Director Clare Wood, well in earshot of Raducanu as she sat in her chair being attended to by the trainer.
On resumption, Raducanu retained her focus and saved the threatening break point, as well as a second, before clinching her 3rd championship point with an ace after a long miscue by Fernandez.
“It’s an absolute dream,” Raducanu said in her press conference. “You just have visions of yourself going up to the box, hugging everyone, celebrating. That’s something that you always think of, you always work for.
Looking back on the ace that won her championship point, Raducanu said: “I don’t think I made one serve that wide in the whole match, to be honest.
“I was like, ‘If I’m going to make it, this is going to be the time.’ I literally drove my legs up to that ball toss like never before. I landed it. Just disbelief, trying to take everything in, all the moment.
“I think the biggest thing that you have visions of is, for me it was just winning, the winning moment, and going to celebrate with your team in the box, trying to find your way up to the box, just seeing them after the match. That’s been playing in my head, like, a couple nights. I’ve fallen asleep to that.”
The evening had begun with a solemn ceremony to remember the victims of the September 11 attacks 20 years ago, which was before both finalists were born, and then the pioneering Original 9 were out on court for the coin toss, but it was the dazzling new teenage stars who captivated the crowd..
Both are of mixed heritage – Raducanu has a Chinese mother and a Romanian father, while Fernandez has an Ecuadorian dad and a Filipino-Canadian mom – and they greatly value their education and have grown up in secure and happy environments surrounded by good people.
They also both got goodwill messages from their prime ministers, Boris Johnson and Justin Trudeau, amongst a host of others.
Raducanu came out on fire, putting Fernandez on the back foot by winning 7 of the first 9 points and taking advantage of 2 double-faults in a marathon second game to go up 2-0.
Fernandez, whose singular skill is her fighting spirit, broke right back, but Raducanu had more power and weight of shot and she grabbed the first set after 58 minutes, blasting 11 winners in the process.
The Canadian broke to go up 2-1 in the second, demonstrating her resolve but a crosscourt backhand by Raducanu caught the line, and she blasted a backhand return of serve to break right back and even the score at 2 all.
Fernandez struck a short forehand that looked like a sure winner, but the Brit anticipated beautifully and unleashed a fearsome forehand down the line to score a second straight break and go up 4-2, and the rest was to become history.
It took an 108-mph ace to the corner to seal the US Open title for Raducanu, whose goal at the beginning of the year was to gain direct entry into the 2022 Australian Open main draw, and now, playing in just her second Grand Slam, she had not allowed her challenger to win more than 4 games in a set, just as she had done with her 9 previous opponents.
She fell onto her back and relished the occasion, as stardom beckons, before rising with her signature smile to begin her celebrations.
“It just shows that the future of women’s tennis – and just the depth of the game right now – is so great,” Raducanu said. “I think every single player in the women’s draw definitely has a shot of winning any tournament.”
While Raducanu’s mantra is ‘Anything is possible’, Fernandez’ is ‘Nothing is impossible’.
Both put on a great show worthy of Broadway, playing beautifully orchestrated attacking tennis that had 24,000 delighted fans enthralled on Ashe, as well as a global television audience cheering in the wings.
Fernandez fought back understandable tears of disappointment on the podium but could still reflect on a superb tournament, saying: “It’s incredible. I honestly have no idea what to say.
“Today’s going to be hard to recuperate but Emma played amazing so I congratulate you, Emma, and your team.
“I’m very proud of myself, and the way I played these last two weeks and especially having the crowd. Thank you so much New York.”
Raducanu wore the biggest grin as she hugged the US Open trophy after completing her New York fairytale triumph and one of the most astonishing feats in sport, giving us all a glimpse of what the next great rivalry in women’s tennis could become.
What a performance! A star is born.