As Emma Raducanu fired an ace, her third of the match, past Leylah Fernandez inside Arthur Ashe Stadium on, she dropped her racket and put her hands over her face in disbelief.
The 18-year-old girl from Great Britain was now a U.S. Open champion after compiling a dream-like run in New York, becoming the first British woman to win a Slam title in nearly five decades.
“It's an absolute dream," said Raducanu. "I've always dreamed of winning a Grand Slam. You just say these things. You say, 'I want to win a Grand Slam.' But to have the belief I did, and actually executing, winning a Grand Slam, I can't believe it."
Photo Credit: Andrew Ong/USTA
Raducanu’s stay in New York was longer than the typical fortnight that most champions spend at the majors. Her journey started the week prior to the commencement of the main draw: qualifying. Raducanu had to win three qualifying matches in a row just to earn a spot in the main draw.
“As for this three weeks in New York, I would say having such a supportive team, the LTA, my agent, and everyone back home watching on TV, thank you so much for your support over the years,” she said. “Thank you for making me feel so at home from my first qualifying match, you have spurred me on in some difficult moments.”
Seemingly overnight, Raducanu was a global superstar. She made the usual rounds that players do after a major victory, making appearances on morning talk shows and partaking in countless photo shoots. Just days after her win, Raducanu was also invited to the Met Gala, where she mingled with the biggest names in fashion, pop culture and sports. Recently, she was at the movie premier for the newest James Bond film.
Her social media pages have jumped to more than 2 million followers, and sports apparel companies and other brands are foaming at the mouth hoping to land Raducanu and have her promote their products. Marketing guru Mark Borkowski says that she could potentially be the first billion dollar female athlete.
"This is the start of something epic. She is a billion-dollar girl, no doubt about it,” he said. “She is the real deal. It’s not just that she plays extraordinary tennis, it’s also her background, her ethnicity, her freedom of spirit. People also love the fact that she is vulnerable, but laughs the pressures away.”
It’s a truly meteoric rise for a girl who had temporarily put tennis on hold so she could focus on her academics during the pandemic. In fact, last month, she completed her studies at the famed Newstead Wood School in Orpington, England, where she received the highest grades possible in Math and Economics.
While her on-court tennis skills, including a blistering two-handed backhand, are to be marveled at, perhaps the most impressive thing about Raducanu is her unflappable confidence and composure. Teenagers aren’t supposed to win major titles without dropping sets, and they aren’t supposed to seem unfazed competing in New York and on the biggest stage. But here she was in Queens in front of tens of thousands of spectators, and millions more watching on television, delivering a master class performance.
Just a couple of months before, Raducanu burst onto the scene at Wimbledon, where she reached the fourth round as a Wild Card. She had never played at a WTA Tour event prior to Wimbledon, but won three main draw matches at the tournament in her home country. But in her fourth-round match against Ajla Tomljanovic, she began to have problems breathing and felt dizzy, forcing her to retire from the match.
Her retirement was met with a mixed reaction, with some claiming she was overwhelmed by the moment and could not handle the pressure. Whatever the reason was, the teenager put any notion that pressure was too much for her to bed with her run in New York.
That unwavering poise comes from how she was raised, she says. Born in Toronto, Canada to a Romanian father and Chinese mother, Raducanu and her family moved to London when she was just two-years-old. Although her parents were unable to join her in New York and witness her accomplishment in person, they were certainly there in spirit.
“I think the confidence comes from just inner belief,” Raducanu said in Vogue. “My mom comes from a Chinese background, they have very good self-belief. It’s not necessarily about telling everyone how good you are, but it’s about believing it within yourself. I really respect that about the culture.”
“I think that the calmness and the mental strength definitely comes from my upbringing. I think my parents have both instilled in me from a very young age to definitely have a positive attitude on court, because when I was younger, it was definitely an absolute no-go if I had any sort of bad attitude. So from a young age, I definitely learned that, and it’s followed me until now.”
In addition to playing tennis as a kid, Raducanu also did ballet, horse riding, swimming, go-carting and motocross, contributing to forming a well-rounded person and athlete. This, coupled with her focus on academics, has helped her avoid the tennis burnout many junior players face when their lives are solely dedicated to the sport.
Raducanu’s composure allowed her to be successful on the tennis court, and it’s her charming demeanor that has transformed her into a global icon almost instantly. After her win, she delivered a message in Mandarin to her friends and family in China, thanking them for their support.
The next step for Raducanu now is to manage her stardom and fame which she now has to deal with. It can be a daunting task to handle the pressure of maintaining an image while remaining successful on court, and as we have seen over the past year, the mental health of athletes and the pressures they face can take a toll on a person.
But Raducanu seems to be taking everything that comes her way in stride, and enjoying the fruits of her labor rather than running from them.
“I don’t feel absolutely any pressure,” she said. “I’m still only 18-years-old. I’m just having a free swing at anything that comes my way. That’s how I faced every match here in the States. It got me this trophy, so I don’t think I should change anything.”
Photo Credit: Darren Carroll/USTA
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for Long Island Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.