The young man who won the US Open Practice Court 8 guarded, wasn’t too impressed last Tuesday to learn that Emma Raducanu was practicing there. “Yeah,” he said with the routine of someone who spends his day guarding tennis courts: “She’s been here for a few weeks and is always training out here.” One should know that Practice Court 8 is not on the fancy tennis facility, but outside in Corona Park, between the toilet of the subway station Mets-Willets Point, a mini golf course and incredibly stinking rubbish bins. There are training grounds for the unknowns, the juniors, the qualifiers.
“She can do something,” said the young man, and a few days later, Emma Raducanu is US Open Champion, in the largest tennis arena in the world she defeated Leylah Fernandez (Canada) 6: 4, 6: 3 . “Of course you dream of something like that as a child and say: ‘I want to win a Grand Slam tournament'”, she says afterwards, sitting in the catacombs in a black evening dress: “But I only finished school this summer “I only really trained after that. Then I came here, and with every game my confidence grew and the belief grew: I could really do it. But of course it’s still unbelievable.”
Perhaps the most incredible number is not that US Open winner Emma Raducanu is only 18 years old, nor that she is the first qualifier in history to win a Grand Slam tournament – for both men and women, by the way. And also not that she has never won a match on the WTA Women’s Tour or played a WTA game on clay before this US Open. The most incredible number is: 152. This is the world ranking of Mariam Bolkvadze (Georgia) – the only one who won five games against Raducanu in one set at this US Open, 3: 6, 5: 7 in the second qualifying round .
The results of Raducanu in the main draw because it is so amazing: 6: 2, 6: 3. 6: 2, 6: 4. 6: 0, 6: 1. 6: 2, 6: 1, 6: 3, 6: 4. 6: 1, 6: 4. And, as already mentioned: 6: 4, 6: 3. She played her way through this tournament like rarely before.
“I still have other options”
Her final opponent Fernandez, who was two months older than her, fought her way through this tournament. She has fought battles against the two-time US Open winner Naomi Osaka (USA), for example, against Angelique Kerber (Germany), the 2016 winner, Elina Switolina (Ukraine), who is fifth, and Aryna Sabalenka (second in the world rankings) ( Belarus).
Raducanu outplayed her opponents, and whoever followed the training session on Tuesday in full, should have recognized astonishing parallels in the final; for example in the last game of the first set. She let herself be chased from one corner of the court to the other at the baseline, and then had to defend at full speed with the backhand – not with a lollipop hit, but aggressively. It was one stroke that led to the set ball, and she won the passage with what she had practiced afterwards: first forehand cross, and then the drive down the line. Then, as always, she blew her hitting hand, as if to suggest how hot that hand is right now.
You shouldn’t make the mistake of seeing Raducanu’s triumph as a pure teen tennis sensation. The daughter of a Chinese woman and a Romanian, born in Canada and raised in London, was already considered gifted at the age of eight – by the way, in many areas, she is one of those people whose photo is in the school yearbook under the heading “Most likely to succeed” was to be found. Something will come of this, and it could have been math or business administration (she is a first-grade student in both subjects at the elite school Newstead Wood School); it became tennis, and she only decided this summer that it would be tennis: “I still have other options, but it’s 100 percent tennis right now.”
She had already drawn attention to herself this year at Wimbledon when she made it to the round of 16 (after successful qualification), but had to give up against Ajla Tomljanovic (Australia) because, as she said, she simply ran out of breath. Companions reported in New York how much it annoyed them and therefore trained them even harder. Another observation of Practice Court 8: Raducanu slipped between the last sixteen and quarter-finals on the day as if she had to prepare for a five-set spectacle against Novak Djokovic.
“I have no idea what is happening out there in the world right now,” she said when asked what she thought of the fact that Queen Elizabeth sent her SMS to the first Grand Slam triumph of a British woman since Virginia Wade (1977 at Wimbledon) congratulated: “I haven’t looked at my phone yet. I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, and I don’t even want that. I’m enjoying the moment.”
The US Open shows an interesting development in women’s tennis: in the past four years no winner (two times Osaka, Sloane Stephens, Bianca Andreescu) was older than 24 years, now two teenagers were in the individual finals and two others (the Americans Cori “Coco “Gauff and Catherine McNally) in doubles final. Something is happening in women’s tennis, the upheaval is in full swing, and if you want to see a few future Grand Slam champions, you should perhaps stop by the training grounds between the toilet and the garbage cans every now and then – you don’t even need a ticket .