At the beginning of July, when 18-year-old Emma Raducanu was about to begin her first-round match at Wimbledon against Vitalia Diatchenko having been granted a wildcard by the All England Club, she was ranked 338 in the world and even the most ardent of tennis fans would struggle to tell you much about her.
Fast forward to the middle of September and this charming, smiling assassin from Kent is in the final of the US Open, on the back of her run to the last 16 of SW19, and is the favourite to defeat her fellow teenager Leylah Fernandez to win the women’s singles crown at Flushing Meadows.
Raducanu’s rise is, quite frankly, astonishing. She had to qualify for the tournament – and she did so without dropping a set. To reach this point in the tournament in the main draw, she has defeated Shuai Zhang (world No 49), Sara Sorribes Tormo (world No 41), Shelby Rogers (world No 43), Belinda Bencic (11th seed and recent gold medallist at the Olympics) and Maria Sakkari (17th seed). Five players inside the top 50, dismantled in straight sets, with the concession of just 27 games. Poor Sorribes Tormo was nearly dished up a double bagel.
Writing herself into the history books
Raducanu is ripping up the record books. She is the first qualifier – male or female – to make the final of any grand slam tournament. She is also now the first British woman to earn a place in a major final since Virginia Wade won Wimbledon in 1977. She is the youngest British Grand Slam finalist in 62 years and only the fourth British woman to reach a Grand Slam final in the Open era.
She is now the girl on everyone’s lips. Even her ascent to stardom took the tennis world by surprise. Tim Henman has labelled her performance levels “staggering” and “simply stunning” after overcoming Sakkari 6-1 6-4 in the semi-finals. It is not uncommon for teenagers in the women's game to be at the sharp end of tournaments but, by those standards, what Raducanu has achieved is remarkable. For context, she had not played a WTA main tour event before Wimbledon.
Raducanu has captured the hearts of a nation. Even allowing for the time difference and a 3am start on Friday back in the UK, thousands of people will have stayed up to watch. Her youthful exuberance, the maturity in the way she speaks, the smile, the pure joy etched across her face as she swats her opponents away so effortlessly is what makes her distinctive. Plus her tennis ability, too. She has a good serve for her age, is incredibly athletic and dexterous, and is able to crush winners from both her forehand and backhand wings.
Britain has a new sports star
When she was at Wimbledon, and made the last 16, she had to retire when a set down against Alja Tomljanovic, the weight of expectation and public glare becoming a little too much as she suffered breathing difficulties. While not on home soil, to be able to bounce back from that and scythe through the main draw in New York shows we have a once-in-a-generation talent on our hands, someone who could potentially fill the void soon to be left by Andy Murray in British tennis.
Born in Toronto, Canada, to a Chinese mother and a Romanian father, Raducanu moved to London when she was two-years-old and first picked up a racket when she was five. She attended Newstead Wood School in Bromley, where she recorded an A* in maths and an A in economics in her A-Levels. She is a smart cookie, on and off the court.
It is the speed of her rise that should be celebrated, though. Britain has a new sports star. She will be a poster girl, an idol, for millions of young females across the country. We don’t have that many of them, so her emergence is so important for society. There will be many young teens tuning in to Amazon Prime at 9pm on Saturday to watch her, eyes wide open.
We are guaranteed a US Open champion under the age of 20. Fernandez, born in Montreal, is a year older than Raducanu and while having been on the scene for a bit longer than the Brit, goes into the match as the underdog. She’s had a tough route to the final. While Raducanu has obliterated all in front of her, Fernandez’s past four matches have all gone the distance against two former champions in Naomi Osaka and Angelique Kerber, as well as top ten players such as Elina Svitolina and Aryna Sabalenka.
Taking care of the day
"I think honestly being young, there is an element of you do play completely free,” Raducanu beamed in front of the New York crowd when asked about her dream run to the final.
"But I'm sure that when I'm older or have more experience, yeah, the same will happen to me. I think the tables will turn. Some younger players will come through.
"Honestly right now I'm just thinking of the game plan, how to execute. That's what's landed me in this situation. It hasn't been focusing on who's expected to win this match or that one.
"I think it's just taking care of the day. That's what I'm doing quite well at the moment."
One hopes that stage fright won’t get the better of these two. Raducanu has looked so cool and calm, like she was playing back at her local club, but surely the magnitude of what she might achieve will dawn upon her at some point. She has steeled mentally so much though in such a short space of time, however, that you’d back her to push past any jitters that come her way.
That’s what special sportspeople do. And my word, this girl is special. She is ready to become Queen of New York City.