Emma Raducanu: Teenager's US Open run captures imagination

By Alex BysouthBBC Sport
Emma Raducanu
Emma Raducanu is the first player in the Open era to reach the semi-finals of the US Open after starting in qualifying
US Open women's singles semi-final - Raducanu v Sakkari
Date: Friday, 10 September Time: 02:00 BST Venue: Arthur Ashe Stadium, New York
Coverage: Live radio commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Sounds, BBC Sport website and app. Live text commentary and in-depth coverage on the website and app

Emma Raducanu's US Open exploits are transcending tennis and capturing the public's imagination with the 18-year-old trending on Twitter and being congratulated by a rock star for reaching the semi-finals on her debut in New York.

Former Oasis frontman Liam Gallagherexternal-link, ex-England striker Gary Linekerexternal-link and London mayor Sadiq Khan external-linkwere among those queuing up to praise the British number-one-in-waiting following a quarter-final win over Swiss 11th seed Belinda Bencic.

And that support was echoed on both sides of the Atlantic as Raducanu became the first player in the Open era to reach the last four of the American Grand Slam having started her campaign in qualifying.

The Toronto-born sensation, who moved to Britain aged two, has powered her way to the semi-finals without dropping a set, with her ruthless groundstrokes complemented by a beaming grin and a sense that Raducanu is determined to soak up every moment of this dream run.

Virginia Wade, the last British woman to win a Grand Slam singles title in 1977 at Wimbledon, says there is not a box the teenager's game does not tick, while Czech-American 18-time Grand Slam champion Martina Navratilova says Raducanu boasts a "really high tennis IQ and mental IQ".

She has demonstrated that with impressive shot selection, composure and an ability to adjust and adapt to combat her opponent's strengths, something Raducanu displayed in her impressive victory against Bencic.

The teenager has also endeared herself to the Big Apple crowd - despite knocking out home hope Shelby Rogers in the last 16 - with applause rippling around the Arthur Ashe Stadium following every point she won against the Olympic champion on Wednesday.

But that is nothing compared to the support Raducanu is garnering back home as British tennis fans continue to search for someone to grasp the Grand Slam-winning baton from Andy Murray.

Raducanu 'in that handful who will be dominating tennis' - Wade

"Yes Emma" and "Go Emma" were trending in the UK, while fans on social media waded in with suggestions to rebrand the SW19 slope known as Henman Hill: Raducanu Rise, anyone?

But just 10 weeks ago, before her surge to the Wimbledon last 16, only the most ardent tennis fans knew the name of a teenager ranked outside the world's top 300.

She had not played in the previous 15 months as the coronavirus pandemic wiped out the development tours underneath the main WTA Tour.

Last month, Raducanu was collecting her A-level results - an A* in maths and an A in economics - and come Monday she will officially replace Johanna Konta as Great Britain's highest-ranked female player as she climbs to the cusp of the world's top 50.

Judging by the articulate and considered post-match interviews the 18-year-old has delivered throughout this major, it is a mantle she will take in her stride.

Alan Blount, the teenager's former headteacher at Newstead Wood School - also sprinter Dina Asher-Smith's old school - said despite playing elite sport and facing multiple lockdowns during her final years as a student, she kept her school work up to a high standard.

"We've watched her coming up through the ranks, and competing abroad then coming back into school has been her norm," he told BBC Radio 5 Live Breakfast.

"She's an amazing sports star but she is an amazing academic as well and I think that is part of the mindset we are seeing. She is thinking; she is outwitting her opponents.

"What you see is the Emma that we know. Seeing the enjoyment on her face is infectious. She is genuine and a really nice person and that comes across in her interviews."

She will also have boosted her bank balance considerably, earning $675,000 (£490,000) for reaching the last four here and having taken home £181,000 in Wimbledon prize money.

It has been a staggering ascent and one Raducanu says she did not expect - in fact, her flight home was booked for after the qualifying rounds, though she admits having to reschedule it is "a nice problem to have".

Meanwhile, when her coaches were fretting about missing practice after being caught up in bad traffic because of Hurricane Ida, Raducanu was completely relaxed about the situation, raising her eyebrows and telling them "it's OK if we miss it".

"I don't really stress out over many things," she said. "I trust myself and it's all mental at the end of the day."

But while Raducanu may be merciless on court, she explains that any sort of "bad attitude" was "an absolute no-go" with her parents when she was growing up.

"I think that the calmness and the mental strength definitely comes from my upbringing," she said. "I think my parents have both instilled in me from a very young age to definitely have a positive attitude on court.

"Out there on the court today, I was saying to myself, 'This could be the last time you play on Ashe, so might as well just go for it and enjoy everything'."

The teenager, more than likely wearing her favourite red outfit once more as she is "not going to change absolutely anything" at this stage, will get another outing at the iconic New York venue when she takes on Greek 17th seed Maria Sakkari on Thursday (02:00 BST - Friday, 10 September - live radio commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live).

Despite entering the tie as the underdog, few will be writing off Raducanu this time, nor will she be putting any extra pressure on herself.

"To compare yourself and your results against anyone is probably like the thief of happiness," she said.

"I mean, I didn't compete for 18 months, but here I am, and it just shows that if you believe in yourself, then anything is possible."

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