For a player who had her flight home booked for the end of the preliminary rounds of the US Open, Emma Raducanu’s grand slam campaign ended on Saturday with a stunning, and history-making final victory.
The 18-year-old from Britain is the first qualifier to win a major title in the Open era, and the first woman to win the US Open without dropping a set, since Serena Williams in 2014.
It was never predicted that two teenagers, Emma Raducanu, and Canadian Leylah Fernandez, ranked 150th and 73rd in the world respectively, would be the ones to compete for the grand slam trophy. It was an epic win for Raducanu – who received a personal congratulations from Queen Elizabeth – and a milestone for women’s tennis itself, which has never been more enthralling for its audience.
Emma Raducanu’s triumph comes just months after her untimely early retirement from Wimbledon, when she suffered some breathing difficulties that saw her follow medical advice to leave the court. At the time, Raducanu said the decision to withdraw was disappointing, but it also helped her to learn “what it takes” to perform at the top level of tennis.
At the time, some notable male commentators, including Piers Morgan, criticised Raducanu, implying she had decided to quit the Round 16 Wimbledon match because she was losing. Morgan said she “couldn’t handle the pressure” and that mental strength and resilience “are not dirty words” to use when it comes to athletes.
On the weekend in New York, Emma Raducanu proved that Morgan’s unsolicited advice on mental strength was never needed, with her calmness and resilience on full display throughout the grand slam tournament. In fact, her composure under pressure was the thing that most commentators noted, when talking about her performance in the final. Quite remarkable for a player who has still never won a match on the WTA Tour.
At 18, Raducanu is the youngest grand slam champion since Maria Sharapova in 2004, and the resilience she has shown since her Wimbledon experience is something she can be proud of.
She joins a list of other young, female athletes who have been open about prioritising their mental and physical health in the face of elite competition in recent years. Fellow tennis champion Naomi Osaka has been instrumental in carving out the space for athletes to take a step back if they need to. Emma Raducanu did so when she announced she would be withdrawing from media commitments for a time.
So has US gymnast Simone Biles, when she chose to opt out of competition at the Tokyo Olympics, when she realised her mental health was suffering. “At the end of the day, we’re human, too. We have to protect our mind and our body rather than just go out there and do what the world wants us to do,” Biles said in Tokyo.
Speaking in New York after the US Open win, Emma Raducanu said she thinks her “calmness and mental strength” comes from her 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,” she said. “From a young age, I definitely learnt that, and it’s followed me until now.”
With her win being hailed as an iconic, and historic moment, the pressure on Raducanu is unlikely to ease. In a matter of two months, she’s shot from being a complete unknown to a grand slam champion, but it looks like she’s ready to take it all in her stride.
“I definitely think it’s the time to just switch off from any future thoughts or any plans, any schedule,” Emma Raducanu told reporters on Saturday. “Right now, no care in the world, I’m just loving life.”