Emma Raducanu, youth freedom and US Open glory

Emma Raducanu, youth freedom and US Open glory

Emma Raducanu, youth freedom and US Open glory

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An hour into Emma Raducanu’s amazing third-round match at last year’s US Open, she, somehow, still hadn’t lost a single game. In the second grand slam of her career, the 18-year-old had lined up against the eternal Sara Sorribes Tormo, a match that seemed destined to push Raducanu to the limit. Instead, the young man tore her apart. Raducanu was leading 6-0, 5-0 with a match point on her opponent’s serve, then one game later, she served the win over her opponent in the top 50. With it, the idea of ​​what she could actually achieve in the following days began to change.

“It was at that point that I thought, ‘Whoa, wait a minute,’” says Katie O’Brien, former British No.1. “If you keep this level she could be a real contender. I think we were all saying it a bit ironically. I’m not entirely sure there was a substance behind those words. “

Related: Emma Raducanu minimizes fears of injury ahead of the US Open defense

Back then, even a simple fourth-round run seemed like an unreal prospect. A few months earlier, Raducanu was inactive, her tennis paused before her level A. Her Her breakthrough at Wimbledon was at home, a world away from the tour routine. The North American hard court swing marked a first extended overseas sale and had arrived in New York exhausted after a run to the final of a lower tier event in Chicago the previous Sunday. Just leaving the three qualifying rounds would have been a successful tournament.

“I’m sure she was pretty happy she qualified last year,” O’Brien says. “Maybe there was more pressure, you could argue, in the first qualifying round. She just wanted to win a couple of games. And then, once she got into the main draw, she said, ‘Oh wow, I’m here now. Let’s just play. ‘”

Iain Bates, the head of women’s tennis at the LTA, was part of Raducanu’s team in New York and has worked with her frequently since. She says, “I heard in the beginning, she came from [the event in] Chicago, if it came from her [qualifying] it would at least be a way to keep the momentum going and show where his level is that he can get through the qualifiers in a slam.

Serena Williams will play doubles with her sister Venus at the US Open after the pair are awarded a wild card.

The tournament will be Serena’s last and she hasn’t played in any Grand Slam championship with her sister since the French Open four years ago.

Meanwhile, two-time US Open winner Naomi Osaka says she’s struggling with her mental health on the eve of the tournament. Osaka have only won one game since April and admitted: “I feel like I would have lied about a day ago and said I was really relaxed. But actually, when I practiced today, I felt very anxious. I think it’s because I really want to do well because I feel I haven’t been doing well lately ”.

Bates notes that Raducanu’s first workout actually took place on non-glamorous pitches off the tournament pitch in the adjacent park, which was eventually kicked out by another player, forcing her to end up elsewhere. “It is quite ironic that the first free practice was on P164 compared to where the tournament ended for her,” she says.

The little breaks all seemed to go in Raducanu’s favor, the kind of luck essential to any surprise slam run. She was granted a late start Wednesday for her first qualifying round, one more day to adjust after her travels. After qualifying, she was drawn against Jennifer Brady, the 13th seeded and finalist beaten at the Australian Open. But Brady retired through injury, leaving the Briton with a first round match against lucky underdog Stefanie Vögele, who won by losing just five games. For two weeks, Raducanu tightened the bottom line, choking opponents with her return of service, and she moved smoothly, constantly trying to turn defense into attack.

Emma Raducanu's run to US Open glory was helped because

Emma Raducanu’s run to US Open glory was helped because “practically no one knew her,” said Caroline Garcia. Photograph: Robert Deutsch / USA Today Sports

Perhaps most notably, the young woman did not face any opponent with the game to completely overwhelm her and came forward as an aggressor in every match. “Every day you kept thinking that she would win because her level was so good. You felt that someone to beat her had to be a real heavy attacker, like a [Karolina] Pliskova. Someone who was going to play heavy and aggressive tennis and almost took the racket out of her hand ”.

“Virtually no one knew her,” says Caroline Garcia, the champion in Cincinnati last week, smiling. “I think that when you are young and you arrive and nobody knows you, there are always positive points on your side, because you can analyze a lot of your opponent’s game and know how to play. But most of the time it is quite difficult to find good quality videos or games where they can see how you are ”.

Until the end, Raducanu controlled his own fate, attacking without hesitation, and slammed an ace wide on the championship point against Leylah Fernandez to finish his 10th consecutive game, winning his first grand slam without losing a set.

Even before he finished celebrating with his team at their hotel that night, there were warnings about future challenges. Raducanu had to adapt to his life at the same time, transforming himself from one day to the next on and off the pitch. Every decision he made has been scrutinized. It wasn’t easy. A year later, he compiled a negative win and loss record of 15-18 and the winning streak was limited. O’Brien says, “He didn’t just miss a circle [in her development]but probably 10 rounds to win the US Open.

Adds Bates, “If you look at it in a normal trajectory and you said before last year’s US Open that Emma will be ranked 60, that she beat this number of top 30, 50 and 100 players, you can look at it and say, ‘This is a profile that I will sign up for. ‘ Everyone rightly looks at it through a different lens and I understand it because she has become a superstar. “

Emma Raducanu punched Serena Williams 6-4, 6-0 in Cincinnati.

Emma Raducanu punched Serena Williams 6-4, 6-0 in Cincinnati. Photograph: Susan Mullane / USA Today Sports

While reflecting on the US Open to be held after a successful week in Cincinnati, Raducanu said his one-sided wins over former No. 1 of the world Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka were the first time he felt a kind of freedom similar to the player who marched through the door a year ago in New York.

“I also honestly think my opponents have played much better this year,” said Raducanu. “I am reviewing my US Open games, and there are some times when I have been given a lot of gifts or maybe they have gotten a little tight. So I think I’ve really improved as a player. I think I got something great, of course, but I was playing completely free and I’m starting to do it again. “

As she reflected on her senior year, Raducanu didn’t hesitate to discuss the challenges of her life-changing success, stating that she no longer has time for herself.

“It doesn’t exist,” he said. “I’m really, really lucky and have a lot of amazing opportunities coming my way, but it sure comes with a certain compromise where you don’t have time to switch off or be alone or do things you want to do. You are constantly on guard. But it also comes with what I did, what I got and I wouldn’t trade it for anything “.

Raducanu describes himself as a different person from the newcomer who arrived for the qualifying event a year ago and there have been times when he has lost the vitality he was carrying on in 2021. “There are times in the year when I lost that person and I was very into some things. But I’m still young at the end of the day. I’m 19, 20 at the end of the year. It’s going to happen, “he said.

However, his unpreparedness for the physical demands of top-tier tennis and his constant adjustments to his rivals further underscore the astounding achievement of winning a Grand Slam so early in his development.

In the second Grand Slam tournament of her career, ranked 150th and during her first long journey away from home as a professional, she made it to the qualifying rounds unsure of how to navigate the tournament terrain and left the title.

“When you took it all apart, what he got here last year was monumental,” says Bates. “I really felt him coming back to Flushing a couple of days ago. Since so much has happened since then, you forget the time when last year’s US Open was.

“You forget how big this event is. She qualified and won it at the age of 18. If you take it for what it is, it’s extraordinary.

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