My interest in women’s tennis probably came around the time Laura Robson had won the Wimbledon girls title at the age of just 14. Before then I had followed players like Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski who had nearly won a Grand Slam, and hoped we would have the same happen in the women’s section. A year later, Heather Watson won the girls US Open, and it seemed like we were ushering in a new era of tennis led by Andy Murray. It was exciting.
Laura went on to win an Olympic silver medal with Andy Murray, while Heather won the mixed doubles at Wimbledon in 2016 with Henri Kontinen. But aside from that, neither woman’s career reached the heights I thought they would. Not through any fault of their own though; usually through a combination of bad luck and injuries. Johanna Konta had also flirted with success with three separate Grand Slam semis, but the big one eluded her.
Enter The Raducanu
I fell in love with Romania when I travelled there in 2016. The people are friendly and that part of the world is effortlessly stunning. So when I saw the list of wildcards and saw the ethnically Romanian named Emma Raducanu, I was already rooting for her. I didn’t expect her to do anything special though; I mean, she was ranked 338th.
Then she won.
Then she won again…
On her Grand Slam debut, the 18 year old was facing a very solid player in Sorana Cirstea. I remember thinking, “It’s been fun. Well done though, getting to the third round is amazing!”
Nah, she bulldozed her way through Cirstea in straight sets, before eventually succumbing to the Australian Tomljanović, retiring in the second set after experiencing breathing difficulties.
It was astounding. The energy around her was electric, and the US Open was just around the corner. She was drawn in the qualifiers, and everyone was quietly watching how Emma would do. Ranked 31st, she had to beat 4th ranked Mayar Sherif to reach the main draw. The British public were exhilarated. Could she possibly go on another run again?
Spoiler Alert: She Did…
As a fan, it was simply majestic. I was in awe watching her smash through her opponents while oozing confidence. She had the belief, and it seemed no one was going to stop her, not even the seeded players.
Her route to the final was as follows:
1st round: Stefanie Vögele (CHE) 6-2, 6-3
2nd round: Zhang Shuai (CHN) 6-2, 6-4
3rd round: Sara Sorribes Tormo (ESP) 6-0, 6-1
4th round: Shelby Rogers (USA) 6-2, 6-1
Quarter final: (11) Belinda Bencic (CHE) 6-3, 6-4
Semi final: (17) Maria Sakkari (GRC) 6-1, 6-4
Yes you read that right; straight set wins over Bencic and Sakkari, and a commanding victory over former French Open quarter finalist Shelby Rogers, only giving away three games.
Raducanu was having the tournament of her life, as was her Canadian opponent Leylah Fernandez. One of them had to make history, and I still vividly remember the iconic image of Emma sitting on her chair with her leg heavily bleeding, just a mere ten minutes before serving the final ace to become the US Open champion. The teenager had done it. She’d created history as the first qualifier to ever win a women’s Grand Slam. Not only that; she did it without dropping a set.
Great Britain momentarily forgot about Covid and we all caught Raducanu fever instead, The wave was well and truly being ridden, and everybody wanted a piece of the girl from Bromley.
It was understandable as the Toronto-born Londoner was – and is – highly marketable. Aside from her accomplishments, she speaks fluent Mandarin thanks to her Chinese mother (she is from Shenyang in Northern China), and speaks Romanian as her dad was originally from Bucharest. She was comfortable around the press and nothing seemed to phase her. Emma was being touted as the dominant force in tennis for the next ten, maybe fifteen years. And therein lies the problem.
The problem with people nowadays is they put way too much expectation on young sports stars with potential. They see the potential, and assume like a computer game that they must hit that mark 100% of the time or be deemed a failure. As a result, any minor mistake was put under the microscope, and instead of letting the teenager grow; people were quick to call her a flash in the pain. Which – quite frankly – is nothing short of ridiculous.
Raducanu has had a few niggling injuries recently which has hindered her momentum at key moments but even with the weight of expectation she has shown flashes of brilliance at times.
Her 2022 appearance at Wimbledon didn’t quite go as she would have hoped, but in the last couple of months her consistency has been getting better, enough for her to break into the top 10 of the world rankings for the first time last month.
Now only 19, she is not the finished article yet, of course not. That will come with experience. But the next US Open is only a few weeks away and if she can stay clear of injuries then I’m looking forward to seeing how she fares. Not just in this tournament but in the years to come. No matter what happens, she is a US Open champion, and no one can take that away from her.