NEW YORK (AP) – British teenager Emma Raducanu arrived in New York City last month with a ranking of 150, only one Grand Slam appearance under her belt and a flight booked out of town after the preliminary rounds of the US Open in case she doesn’t. earn his place in the main tournament.
And she was there on Saturday at Arthur Ashe Stadium, cradling the Silver Trophy to complete an unlikely – indeed, unprecedented – and surprisingly dominant trip from qualifying to major champion by beating Canadian teenager Leylah Fernandez 6-4, 6-3 in the final.
“You say, ‘I want to win a Grand Slam’. But to have the conviction that I did and actually performed, winning a Grand Slam, ”said Raducanu,“ I can’t believe it. “
It is so improbable.
Until three months ago, she had never performed in a professional tour-level event, in part because she took 18 months for a combination of reasons: the pandemic and her parents’ insistence. for her to complete her high school diploma.
“My dad is definitely very hard to please,” said Raducanu, 18, with a smile on Saturday night. “But I got there today.”
She is the first qualified woman to reach a Grand Slam final, let alone win one. She has won ten straight games at Flushing Meadows – three in qualifying, seven in the main draw – and is the first woman to win the US Open title without losing a set since Serena Williams in 2014.
Raducanu, who was born in Toronto and moved to England with her family when she was 2, is also the first British woman to win a Grand Slam singles trophy since Virginia Wade at Wimbledon in 1977. Queen Elizabeth II sent a congratulatory note, hailing the victory as a “remarkable achievement at such a young age.”
There were also other firsts, emblematic of the speed of this rise. For example: Raducanu is the youngest female Grand Slam champion since Maria Sharapova was 17 at Wimbledon in 2004.
It was the first major final between two teenagers since Williams, 17, defeated Martina Hingis, 18, at the 1999 US Open; the first between two unseeded women in the professional era, which began in 1968.
Fernandez, whose 19th birthday was on Monday and who is ranked 73rd, was interviewed in a pre-game interview in the hallway leading from the locker room to the entrance to the court to find out what she expected what Saturday’s biggest challenge is.
“Honestly,” she replied, “I don’t know. “
Fair. Neither she nor Raducanu could have.
It was only Fernandez’s seventh major tournament; she had not passed the third lap before.
As tears came to her eyes after the final, she told the Arthur Ashe stadium crowd: “I hope to be back here in the final and this time with a trophy – the right one.”
Moments later, she asked for the microphone so she could address the 23,703 spectators again on the anniversary of 9/11.
“I just want to say that I hope I can be as strong and as resilient as New York has been for the past 20 years,” said Fernandez, born a year before the terrorist attacks. “Thank you for always being there for me. Thank you for supporting me.”
She and Raducanu showed poise and veteran shooting at the US Open – not two relative newcomers whose previous one-on-one match was in the second round of the Wimbledon junior event ago. is barely three years old.
The talent and affinity for the big stage that both have is undeniable.
One of the significant differences today: Fernandez only put in 58% of his first serves and finished with five double faults, helping Raducanu rack up 18 break points.
“I unfortunately made too many mistakes at key moments,” Fernandez said, “and she took advantage of it.”
Raducanu broke to go up 4-2 in the second set, held for 5-2 and twice was a point to win the title in the next game. But under pressure from Fernandez, she let those two opportunities slip by putting groundstrokes into the net.
Then, as she served for the game at 5-3, Raducanu slid down the court chasing a ball to her backhand, bloodying her left knee while losing a point to give Fernandez a chance to break. Raducanu was ordered by chair umpire Marijana Veljovic to stop playing so that a coach could put a white bandage on the cup.
So what happened to Raducanu’s mind during this time of more than four minutes at a critical time?
“I was really trying to think about what my play models were going to be, what I was going to try to execute,” she said. “Going out there facing a breaking point after a… disruption is not easy. I think I managed, for sure, to really play the clutch games when I needed them. “
As if she had been there before, Raducanu saved a pair of break points after the restart, then converted on her third chance to close with an ace of 108 mph. She dropped her racquet, landed on her back and covered her face with both hands.
Eventually, she made her way into the stands to celebrate with her coach and others.
“It’s something that you always think about, that you always work for,” she said.
Fernandez’s group – comprising two sisters and mum but not dad, who stayed at home in Florida, where they moved after their first junior successes several years ago – were in the guest lodge at each other. end of the field, that attributed to the player of higher rank.
It’s a status Fernandez wasn’t used to when she beat four consecutive seeds, each in three sets: defending champion Naomi Osaka and 2016 champion Angelique Kerber, no.2 Aryna Sabalenka and no. ° 5 Elina Svitolina.
This meant Fernandez had arrived after spending over 12 and a half hours on the pitch in his six games; Raducanu’s main draw total was around 7.5 hours.
That seemed to be a factor, especially during the second half of the hour and 51 minute final.
From 4 to all in the first set, Raducanu has won eight of the last 11 games. When she broke to take that set with a well-paced, well-placed forehand down the line, she looked around, then whipped her arms – and fans responded.
Raducanu’s only previous Grand Slam tournament was at Wimbledon, where she stopped playing in the fourth round due to respiratory issues. It was in July, when Raducanu was ranked outside of the top 300 and an unknown.
And now? She will climb into the top 25 of the WTA. She won $ 2.5 million. She is famous in Great Britain and around the world. She is now and forever a Grand Slam champion.
How quickly everything has changed.
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