NEW YORK –
Emma Raducanu came to the US Open with big dreams and a realistic itinerary.
The 18-year-old was unsure whether she would survive a qualifying tournament and secure a spot in the main draw and had booked a flight back to London before the start of the Open. That was one of the few mistakes she made on an amazing run that took her to the top of the tennis world on Saturday.
Raducanus 6-4, 6-3 win over 19-year-old Canadian Leylah Fernandez is based on her steadfast demeanor and ability to fire shots at just the right moment. Despite making her peloton touring-level debut just a few months ago – her parents made sure she graduated first – she played on the Feature Court at Arthur Ashe Stadium as if she’d played Grand Slam finals for years and finished the tournament without losing a set or losing more than four games in any of their seven main draw games.
Raducanu and Fernandez are the first teenagers to meet nourished and protected since the final since 17-year-old Serena Williams beat 18-year-old Martina Hingis in a US Open final in 1999.
“I’ve always dreamed of winning a Grand Slam. You just say these things. They say I want to win a Grand Slam. But I can’t believe having the faith that I have and actually won a Grand Slam, ”said Raducanu, daughter of a Chinese mother and a Romanian father who both work in the financial world.
Her belief became a reality on Saturday with her third World Cup point and for the first time after a fall with blood in her knee. According to the rules, she had to stop treatment when she was 30-40 years old, fearing that her rhythm would be disturbed. Instead, she even pulled, gaining an advantage when Fernandez hit a long backhand and sealed it with an ace.
“I don’t think I’ve served that wide in the whole game to be honest. I thought: If I can do it, this is the right time, ”she said. “I literally drove my legs to throw the ball like never before.”
By the time it landed, she was the first female qualifier to win a Grand Slam singles title, though her progress at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center has been steady rather than mind-blowing. She didn’t have to face a seeded player until she upset number 11 Belinda Bencic in the quarterfinals, despite facing Shelby Rogers in the round of 16 after Rogers ousted number 1 seeded Ashleigh Barty. Raducanu underpinned her win against Bencic by losing just five games in her semifinals against number 17 Maria Sakkari.
Emma Raducanu went to court after beating Leylah Fernandez for the women’s singles title at the US Open on Saturday.
(Frank Franklin II / Associated Press)
All along the way, she showed a knack for getting opponents to play their worst. She lost just 34 games in her seven main draw matches and became the first woman to win the US Open without losing a set since Williams in 2014. Williams was 32 years old at the time and number 1 in the world rankings. Raducanu, who will be 19 years old in November, came in 150th place in the world rankings. She’ll be number 23 next week.
Her success has made her a superstar in her home country. She was featured on Queen Elizabeth II’s social media. “I still haven’t checked my phone. I have absolutely no idea what is going on outside of the little world we are in, ”said Raducanu. She’ll find out soon enough.
Highlights of Emma Raducanu’s win over Leylah Fernandez for the 2021 US Open singles title.
Fernandez, who turned 19 last Monday, killed giants. It started by defeating Ana Konjuh, a quarter-finalist here in 2016, and six-time Grand Slam quarter-finalist Kaia Kanepi, before methodically pissing off the defending champion and third-place Naomi Osaka in the third round. Fernandez backed this up by ousting 2016 US Open winner Angelique Kerber in the fourth round. Kerber said Fernandez “can go very far in the next few years”. More like the next few days.
Fernandez rolled past No. 5 Elina Svitolina in the quarter-finals and recovered after a 1: 4 deficit in the first set of the semifinals against No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka. By now the New York crowd had sung her name and appreciated her fearlessness. In return, she gave them unusual empathy.
After finishing her part in the trophy ceremony, she asked for another word to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. She wasn’t born when the Twin Towers fell, but her parents told her about the tragic events and she wanted to acknowledge the pain of New Yorkers. She told the crowd that she hoped it could be as strong and resilient as the city has been for the past 20 years, a touching moment.
Emma Raducanu, left, and Leylah Fernandez speak after Raducanu’s win at the US Open on Saturday.
(Seth Wenig / Associated Press)
She felt lifted by the love of the fans but was disappointed with her performance. “I think I will bear this loss for a very long time. I think it will motivate me to be better in training, better for the next opportunity I get, ”she said.
She never led in the first set on Saturday and was broken in the last game. Fernandez led the second set 2-1, but Raducanu won the next four games. Fernandez reduced Raducanu’s lead to 5-3, but couldn’t stop them.
“Unfortunately I made one mistake too many in key moments and she took advantage of that,” said Fernandez. “Emma played a great tournament, congratulations to her and her team. But hopefully I’ll come back next year. “
Yes, please. Raducanu too. With a little luck, your excellence will bring joy for years.