There are so many fundamental steps that Emma Raducanu has yet to record in a professional tennis career that only started three months ago. She has never directly participated in a Grand Slam main draw, has yet to play a three-set level match, and she hasn’t even won a match at a WTA tour event.
Yet sometimes a special actor comes along and makes the convention irrelevant. After three weeks and one of the most amazing breakout races in living memory, Raducanu has established herself as a Grand Slam champion forever. She finished the US Open where she started it: fearlessly dominating from inside the baseline as she defeated Leylah Annie Fernandez 6-4, 6-3 in a game of the highest intensity to win the title without losing a set.
This is only Raducanu’s second appearance in the Grand Slam main draw and no woman in the Open era has ever won in so few attempts. Along with this distinction is a seemingly endless list of records: Raducanu is the first British woman to win a Grand Slam title since Virginia Wade’s victory at Wimbledon in 1977. She is the first qualifier, male or female, to win a title. of the Grand Slam. At 18, she is the youngest Grand Slam champion since Maria Sharapova in 2004.
From the start of the first teen slam final in 22 years, both players refused to be affected by the moment. Throughout the first set they fought against each other, defended with elite movement and imbued every game with sheer intensity. Raducanu started the match controlling the early rallies by constantly changing direction of both wings, and she set the tone by slamming a cross backhand winner in the opener.
After holding the serve, Raducanu immediately won the return, breaking her sixth break point. But Fernandez responded with his own suffocating second leg, retreating to his fourth break point for 2-1. After 22 long minutes of pure intensity, they had only played three games.
As she faced her toughest opponent in the championships, Raducanu was at times visibly frustrated with her level as Fernandez’s defense made mistakes that the Briton’s other opponents couldn’t. But as the set progressed, she again began to dominate key points with her firepower on both wings.
Raducanu ran him to 5-4 with a stifling streak of returns, slamming a cross backhand return winner to bring in a double set point. Fernandez saved both, including with a daring series of forehands, then Raducanu missed a third. But Raducanu stayed above the baseline; she punched a winning backhand forehand to bring in a fourth set point, then sent another big forehand to take the set.
Momentum continued to steer Raducanu’s direction as she progressed to lead 6-4, 1-0 and 0-40 on Fernandez’s serve. But with her back to the wall, the Canadian stepped forward and swayed freely. She saved all three and then used the momentum to break the serve for 2-1. Raducanu responded immediately, calling for his immense serve return and breaking up with an angled cross return winner. After maintaining the serve, she played a ballistic return game and again broke for 4-2 with a forehand running winning the pass shot.
Two match points came soon after for Raducanu at 5-2, but both times she hit nervous forehands and missed. Fernandez, seasoned by four three consecutive passers, began a last ditch charge. She held the serve, then got momentum by attacking Raducanu’s serve. At 30-30, she had her opponent on the ropes and pulled off a winning forehand, but as the Briton slipped to a defensive backhand, she grazed her left knee as she slid.
Raducanu was bleeding and so with a score of 6-4, 5-3 and one breaking point in the biggest game of her life, she was forced to take a medical time out. Fernandez, who had the momentum, was unsurprisingly unhappy and when they finally picked up, she immediately fired a forehand at the breaking point.
But then she generated another breaking point, asking Raducanu one last question. Under the final Grand Slam pressure that has stifled so many great players over the course of the year, Raducanu’s reaction said all there was to know about his courage and composure. She saved the second break point on the front foot with an overhead winner at the top of her reach, then drilled a backhand down the line to bring match point. She served him with an ace, in front of a crowd that included Wade.
When Raducanu arrived in New York City three weeks ago, there was some caution about her fitness after a few intense weeks on the road in what is still her first long trip away from home to compete. His flights were booked for the end of qualifying week as a loss in any heat would have been a completely normal result and a valuable learning experience given his inexperience.
And yet, in her fourth level tournament, she left New York City as the champion. After starting the summer 366th and 12th among British players, Raducanu is now 23rd in the world. Her career earnings at the start of the summer were $ 35,185, but she earned $ 2,500,000 (£ 1.8m) in three weeks.
With each new challenge she faced, she learned and adapted in the moment, unlocking new qualities against some of the best tennis players in the world. In a few short weeks she has improved as much as some have in years and there is so much more to come.