It was one of the most remarkable grand slam feats of the modern era, which catapulted the teenager from a virtual unknown to one of the world’s most marketable female athletes and also saw her honoured with an MBE. –Michael Burgess, NZ Herald, 1 January 2023

A super star out of three champions

By Roger Childs

In the recent ASB Women’s Tennis Classic, Emma Raducanu was one of three former US Open grand slam winners. The others Sofia Kenin and Sloane Stephens had meritorious victories, but neither matched the achievement of the British teenager. Raducanu won in 2021 and created a record for both men’s and women’s tennis that will not be beaten. A bold statement!

A very unusual outcome

The 2021 US Open Women’s final had made history and set records before it had even started, notably that two unseeded players were the finalists. This meant that none of the 32 best players in the world, on their ranking before the tournament, made it to the last two! 

The result made more history – the winner, Britain’s Emma Raducanu, was the first qualifier ever to win a grand slam. The odds on this ever being repeated are incredibly low.

Raducanu had to play and win three preliminary matches to even get into the first round. So in going on to ultimately win the final she played an extraordinary 10 matches! Even more amazingly, she won all ten without losing a set. The fate of qualifiers is normally to be beaten in the first round or two by higher ranked players.

A hard fought victory

Raducanu’s 6-4; 6-3 victory over fellow teenager Canadian Leylah Fernandez was by no means straight forward. The players were well matched, and thrilled the large crowd at Flushing Meadows in New York with a style of tennis that stunned a raft of seeded and far more experienced women who were swept aside on the teenagers’ inexorable march to the final.

There were many changes of fortune in the match with numerous deuces, broken service games, break points saved and excellent recoveries. In the first set it was 4-4 before the English woman was able to hold serve and then break to be one set up. Another early break put Raducanu 5-2 ahead in the second and with the crowd desperately wanting a third set, Fernandez saved two match points to make it 3-5. The final game was a long one, but in the end the younger of the two teens prevailed.

The complete package

Despite being ranked 155 and 70 in the world before the tournament began, neither  Raducanu or Fernandez showed any weaknesses in their game. They were “the complete package” and a question no-one can answer is why they played so much better than their more vaunted opposition. 

Both have fast effective serves and powerful ground strokes, which they employ with superb placements to run their opponents around the court. They also mix up their play with occasional drop shots and both demonstrate strong overheads, and effective volleying skills.

They are extremely fit and athletic, and often in the US Open final the excited spectators were ready to applaud another “winner” when an amazing retrieval saw the ball back in play. There were occasional unforced errors and double faults, but that always happens when the two best players in a tournament meet.

A very impressive feature of their game is their court demeanour. Both are very determined players but they showed a maturity beyond their years. In the final there were no angry verbal outbursts or examples of racket abuse which too many far more experienced players occasionally exhibit.

Unfortunately since their extraordinary final both players have had issues including injuries and neither has produced the form or quality of tennis they showed at Flushing Meadows, New York in September 2021.

Making history

Emma Raducanu became the first British woman since Virginia Wade to win a grand slam and Wade was in the audience cheering on her young compatriot. Raducanu and Fernandez have great futures. In September 2021 they had an extraordinary impact on the world of women’s tennis and in being the first ever unseeded grand slam finalists they created history that is not likely to be repeated.

However, Raducanu is the one who passes into the history of the game as an individual, being a qualifier who won a grand slam without dropping a set.