A hero is an individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.
Earlier this year, 18 year-old Emma Raducana was completing her A-Levels in Mathematics and Economics. And in July of this year, the relatively ‘unheard of’ teenager had crashed out of the fourth round of Wimbledon, with notable people such as John McEnroe and Piers Morgan questioning her mental strength and ability to cope with the pressure as she cited ‘breathing problems’ and ‘feeling dizzy’ as the primary reasons for her retirement against Australian Alya Tomljanovic. Yet despite this, only 2 months later under the bright lights of New York at Flushing Meadows, on the same day that America mourned the victims of the 9/11 attacks exactly 20 years on, the world number 150 and rank outsider completed one of sports’ greatest EVER triumphs (male or female) as she captured the US open trophy and the healthy sum of $2.5 million. Not bad for anybody, let alone a teenager eh?
Securing her own unique place in the history books as the first person ever to win a Tennis major title having started the tournament as a qualifier, Raducanu’s achievement is even more remarkable when you consider the fact she didn’t drop a single set in 10 consecutive wins and was extraordinarily ruthless in disposing of stern opposition. Women with more experience and positioned higher in the world rankings. Women, who simply put, were expected to outperform and derail her bid to shock the sporting universe.
In a showpiece final billed as the battle of the teenagers, with Canadian opponent Laylah Fernandez only a year Raducanu’s senior at 19, this was a contest that pitted two of Tennis’ brightest prospects against each other for the first time since the 2nd round of the Girls’ singles at Wimbledon in 2018. A match which Raducanu incidentally comfortably came out of top. Only this time, like neither had ever encountered, this was the professional ranks and the eyes of the whole world were watching closely in anticipation. With the pair closely matched, this was a test to see who would rise to the occasion and show up when it REALLY mattered. On the biggest stage of them all.
During a tight first set, which ebbed and flowed throughout, with incredible skill and composure from both on display, it was Great Britain’s Raducanu who edged her nose in front with a decisive break to take the first stanza 6-4. Heading into the second, one which Fernandez needed to win to keep her title hopes alive, Raducanu further illustrated her class and steely determination to battle past the strong resistance of Fernandez and take a 5-3 stronghold. Despite the toughness and never-say-die attitude that enabled Fernandez to beat numerous top-ranked opponents and reach the final in the first place, and the small fact that Raducanu was seen bleeding from the ankle after attempting to hit a return, she still would not be denied as she fittingly sealed the championship with a 6-4, 6-3 scoreline after firing a trademark ace.
Sinking to her knees and basking in the extraordinary glory of her achievement, this was a victory made all the more sweeter when you realise that the raucous American crowd inside Flushing Meadows was strongly in favour of Laylah Fernandez at every opportunity. Where every point she won brought silence, and every point lost brought raptuous noise and applause. Not since the days of Virginia Wade at Wimbledon in 1977 had Britain unearthed a Women’s Grand Slam champion. In emphatic fashion, however, that wait has finally come to an end. Even if, in our wildest dreams, we didn’t expect it to happen now!
So what’s next for the new British number 1 and world No.23 who’s plunged into stardom in a matter of weeks? Though you’d been forgiven for thinking this incredible rise from outsider to champion and newfound super-fame could be difficult to handle, especially for someone so young, let’s just say this. In the aftermath of her victory, Raducanu was quick to acknowledge the role of her brilliant coaches, friends and supportive parents. Now add to that the outstanding resilience she demonstrated in picking herself back up from the immense scrutiny and disappointment of Wimbledon, and you have a young woman with all the ingredients needed to remain at the highest level of her craft for a very, very long time indeed. Staying at the top is notoriously harder than getting there, but with the support of key people around her to keep her grounded, and a mental strength hailed as ‘special’, Raducanu is brilliantly equipped to prove she’s anything but a result of a fluke or a ‘flash in the pan’. Only time will tell- but I speak for many in saying I can’t wait to see how her career unfolds! Who knows what she can achieve…
With BBC Sports Personality of the Year fast approaching in December, have we got ourselves a new standout contender?
Thanks for reading,