Emma Raducanu wrote her name into the history books just under that of Virginia Wade as she beat Leylah Fernandez to claim the US Open title on Saturday night.
The new British No 1 had to come through qualifying just to make it into the main draw of the US Open but did not drop a single set en route to the final.
Fellow teenager Fernandez had beaten three of the top five seeds in the tournament to get down to the showpiece occasion but had no answer to Raducanu’s relentless baseline power and the match slipped away from her quickly after losing a tight first set.
A break in the sixth game of the second put Raducanu in control of the match, watched by millions in the UK after a last-minute deal with Amazon to show it on Channel 4, and she had two championship points on the Fernandez serve but was made to serve it out.
There was more drama to be had when Raducanu sliced her knee open sliding for a ball and had to take a mid-game medical time-out but she was not to be denied, saving the subsequent break point and sealing the title with an ace.
As always, it took two to tango. Fernandez was left in tears on court as Raducanu climbed up to her box to embrace Andrew Richardson, the man who coached her as a child and was recalled by her father Ian for this US swing. Fernandez was unhappy at the medical timeout in the final game, but her complaints fell on deaf ears, and based on her run to the final and performance on Saturday night, she will be back here again.
Two hours earlier, both such naturally talented teenagers must have been itching to get started, but there was significant pageantry to navigate first. Unlike the only other meeting between these two players, in front of around 40 people on an outside court at Wimbledon Juniors three years, this was an occasion to be savoured.
A four-piece band and a singer performed the national anthem, members of The Original Nine, the women who drove the equal rights movement in tennis in the 1970s including Billie Jean King, were honoured on court. An all-female company of soldiers unveiled a court-sized American flag. It was a celebration of Americana, but also of womanhood.
And these were women, not girls. The two teenagers, once they were finally allowed to start hitting tennis balls at each other, played like veterans, fearlessly battering the ball from the baseline. The first three games took more than 20 minutes and there were 10 break points in total, both players dropping serve. They sat down under no illusions about the size of the battle they were in – but also how much they both loved it. Neither shied away from the moment.
They settled into a rhythm, firing hard from the back of the court and holding serve with more a little more ease, until the 10th game of the set, when Raducanu’s backhand, that had shredded semi-final opponent Maria Sakkari in particular, started to prove irresistible. Fernandez scrapped hard to save the first three set points but Raducanu, on her fourth opportunity, whipped a forehand down the line and threw her arms in the air. The crowd had been marginally more in favour of the North American player on the other side of the net, but they responded immediately to the Brit’s exhortation.
The second set was similarly tight but always felt like Raducanu setting the challenge and Fernandez just about meeting it, rather than the other way around. She was broken in the third game of the set, but immediately broke back and added an insurance break, even forcing championship points on Fernandez’s serve.
If there was ever any question that the Canadian was born for these moments though, it was answered by the clean hitting she produced on those points. It was in vain as Raducanu served out the match a few minutes later, but there was star quality on both sides of the net.
And the Open, as New Yorkers call it, always attracts plenty of star quality. Simpsons and Friends star Hank Azaria had appeared earlier in the week, Paris Hilton was taking selfies during the men’s semi-finals and Jason Biggs, Jim from American Pie to everyone of a certain generation, was spotted at the women’s final. There was tennis royalty too in Andy Roddick, Stan Smith, Martina Navratilova, Virginia Wade and more. The best seat though went to Tim Henman, technically working as a courtside analyst for Amazon Prime Video but living and breathing every point. Raducanu’s coach on this US tour Richardson was Henman’s best man. In previous rounds, Henman had been mouthing reassurances. Whenever the camera fell on him during the final, he was resolutely trying to remain professional.
“It’s an absolute joke,” he said afterwards, repeatedly, summing up aptly how the rest of us were feeling. Millions watching back home, including parents Ian and Renee, probably felt the same. Where she goes from here is anyone’s guess, but it is not a joke, although it might be a while until it feels real. (iNews)