Emma Raducanu and one of the sport’s most amazing breakout years | Emma Raducanu

The first senior Grand Slam experience of Emma Raducanu’s career took place on court 18 on the quiet west side of the Wimbledon pitches this year. The crowd, not too familiar with the No 338, was only drawn to Raducanu by the flag next to his name. Raducanu faced 150th-seeded Russian Vitalia Diatchenko, and after a tight first set that ended in a tiebreaker, a soon-to-be familiar sight unfolded. Raducanu definitely took his place inside the baseline and mercilessly tore up the second set without losing another game.

Considering his complete inexperience as a professional, if that first round victory at Wimbledon had ended up being Raducanu’s biggest achievement in 2021, it would still have been a huge success. Arriving at Wimbledon she had won £ 29,889 in prize money over her young career, but her first round victory brought in £ 75,000.

She had made her touring debut weeks earlier as a wildcard at Nottingham, where she lost in straight sets. Prior to that, she had played 16 tournaments, all in the lower levels of the sport.

After spending the previous 16 months inactive on international tours as she focused on her A levels, Raducanu did not perform in 2021 until March 18. She had no reason to expect her to accomplish anything at the highest level this year. And yet, this Wimbledon victory would mark the start of one of the most surprising breakthroughs in recent memory.

After Diatchenko took the victory over former Roland Garros finalist Marketa Vondrusova and Sorana Cirstea, the hype eventually increased in this final match as Raducanu dismantled his seasoned opponent on the No.1 court.

It was the first spectacular glimpse of his complete talent; his ability to dictate to the best opponents with his gentle backhand and early strikes, his stuffy serve return and the natural athleticism that already underpins so much of what people love.

The way her Wimbledon ended, with Raducanu forced to retire in the fourth round against Ajla Tomljanovic with respiratory issues, only underscored how little experience she had.

Raducanu showed what her playing looks like under ideal conditions, but that said little about how she would handle day to day. She had never done long competitions abroad, an elementary characteristic of her nomadic profession but which can be exhausting and difficult to manage.

Raducanu had assumed that it would take time for her to learn the ropes and gain experience, so she chose to work with her former trainer, Andrew Richardson, a familiar face who could help her in her apprenticeship training. life on tour.

Emma Raducanu lifts the US Open trophy. She didn’t lose a single set by winning her first Grand Slam title. Photograph: ZUMA / PA

What Raducanu achieved at the US Open remains astounding. She said before the tournament that she was unfamiliar with Flushing Meadows that she had to ask other players for directions just to reach the players’ canteen. His return flights were booked at the end of qualifying week, an understandable and realistic precaution for someone who had never been to a qualifying tournament overseas.

Instead, she won nine games in a row and didn’t lose a single set as she won a grand slam title.

After navigating the crowd-free qualifying tournament without incident, each time the challenge ahead of her increased in the main draw, she took on her experienced opponents and dominated more. His comeback was untouchable, consistently stopping his opponents with deep, early returns that stole time from everyone.

His frontrunning ability was enormous. In back-to-back games against Sara Sorribes Tormo and Shelby Rogers – seed winner Ashleigh Barty – she has ripped 11 games in a row. She led Sorribes Tormo 6-0, 5-0 and one match point before conceding a game.

Raducanu didn’t have an ounce of experience behind her, but she immediately showed her ability to adapt and learn from wins and losses.

Her journey to the United States began with lower level tournaments in Pittsburgh and Chicago, where she won games, accumulated the necessary experience, and then continued. As she walked through the US Open, Raducanu showed poise and intelligence in matches, making small adjustments throughout.

The crowd responded by supporting her from the start and the tournament culminated with an unlikely meeting between two teenagers as Raducanu faced 19-year-old Canadian Leylah Fernandez in the youngest Grand Slam final in more than two decades.

The pair garnered so much attention that their final produced higher ratings in the United States than the men’s final between the top two players in the world. In Britain, 9.2 million viewers tuned in to Channel 4, which bought the rights to Amazon Prime, as Raducanu became the first qualifier to win a Grand Slam title in the Open era and the first female player. to win a major in his second Grand Slam tournament.

Raducanu’s draw was kind to her and reflected a particularly open period in women’s tennis. She faced two top 20 opponents in New York and still has not faced a top 10 player, although her semi-final opponent, Maria Sakkari, is now ranked No.6. But she left little behind. doubts about its stratospheric level of play. by erasing everyone in its path. She has conceded 34 games and no one has managed to win five games against her in a set.

Lily-Rose Depp, Whitney Peak, Margaret Qualley, Kristen Stewart and Emma Raducanu at the Met Gala
Lily-Rose Depp, Whitney Peak, Margaret Qualley, Kristen Stewart and Emma Raducanu (left to right) at the Met Gala. Photograph: Arturo Holmes / MG21 / Getty Images

Most players’ lives change instantly when they become Grand Slam Champions, fulfilling the dream of a lifetime as they leave the chase pack for good and become one of the hunted. But few lives have changed so drastically in such a short span of time as Raducanu’s. She entered the US Open in the qualifying draw and a day after it ended she was a guest at the Met Gala, where celebrities were looking for her. She will inevitably be one of the highest-paying and high profile players on the tour for years to come.

When asked recently to describe her year in one word, she shook her head. “A trip,” she said. “This is the most important word. If you had to draw a road or a trip it just wouldn’t make sense, the path and where I went.

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Reacting to his retirement from Wimbledon and the foreseeable drop in his level after the US Open spectacle, Raducanu will have to get used to having his name on everyone’s lips. After winning a Grand Slam tournament before her first win on the WTA Tour or having been in a three-set match at the highest level, she will need to go back and take whatever action is necessary.

The losses to come, inevitable for all, will be as essential to its growth as any other early success.

It has been one of the most amazing breakout years and its place as the overwhelming favorite to win the BBC Sports Personality of the Year is undeniable.


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