Emma Raducanu in 2021; from sitting school exams to winning US Open

Ranked 345 at the end of 2020, Emma Raducanu came out of nowhere to win the US Open. But on the evidence of her year as a whole, she’s here to stay

Emma Raducanu, 2021, Tennis Majors Year in Review © AI / Reuters / Panoramic

At the start of 2021, few people outside of British tennis knew much about Emma Raducanu, a teenager who had decided to stay at home when the Coronavirus pandemic began to finish her school education. When she emerged in the summer, having not played a tournament in over a year, she was ranked 366 but there were signs of what might be to come when she reached the fourth round at Wimbledon.

What the teenager did in New York in August-September 2021 was the stuff of miracles, as she won 10 matches in a row, all in straight sets, to become the first qualifier ever to win the US Open title and the first British woman to lift a Grand Slam title since Virginia Wade at Wimbledon in 1977.

With a Grand Slam title already to her name and after ending the year inside the top 20, expectations will be high in 2022.

  • Ranking at the end of 2020: 343
  • Ranking at the end of 2021: 19
  • 2021 win-loss record: 25-9
  • Titles: 1
Emma Raducanu at the 2021 US Open
Emma Raducanu at the 2021 US Open ©

Best performance: Beating Leylah Fernandez in US Open final

When you come out off nowhere to win your first Grand Slam title, it’s hard not to go with the title-winning victory and why would you? Raducanu’s 6-4, 6-3 win over fellow teenager Leylah Fernandez, on the biggest stage of her life and under more pressure than she can surely ever have felt, was an exercise in how to handle the big occasion. Raducanu went for her shots, stuck to her game-plan and executed it perfectly, clinching a 6-4, 6-3 victory despite cutting her leg on court when she was trying to serve out the match for the title.

“I’ve always dreamed of winning a Grand Slam,” she said. “You just say these things. You say, ‘I want to win a Grand Slam’. But to have the belief I did, and actually executing, winning a Grand Slam, I can’t believe it.”

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Raducanu’s Best Grand Slam result: Winning the US Open

Raducanu had reached her first WTA 125 final the week before the US Open but she was still ranked No 150 when the Grand Slam began and she had to work her way through three qualifying matches to make the main draw. She did that with aplomb, not losing a set, which was already a surprise to her.

“I didn’t expect to be here at all,” she said at one stage in the fortnight. “I mean, I think my flights were booked at the end of qualifying, so it’s a nice problem to have.”

I think my flights were booked at the end of qualifying, so…

Emma Raducanu

She had to change them several more times as the dream became a reality, with Stefanie Voegele, Zhang Shuai, Sara Sarribes Tormo and Shelby Rogers all swept aside on her way to the quarter-finals. Belinda Bencic, who had just won the Olympics, was dismissed with ease and Maria Sakkari, the far-more experienced Greek playing her first slam semi-final, had no chance as she unleashed winner after winner.

The final was more of the same as Raducanu rode the crest of a wave to make history for British women’s tennis and ensure her own place in the US Open annals. “It’s an absolute dream,” she said.

Best moment of the season: Making her Wimbledon debut

Though the US Open victory stands head and shoulders above everything else, Raducanu will forever remember her first experience of Wimbledon, the first time she made an impact on the tennis world. Smiling broadly and enjoying every second, she beat seasoned campaigners in former French Open runner-up Marketa Vondrousova and Sorana Cirstea to reach the fourth round and was playing well against Ajla Tomljanovic when she was forced to quit, with what later became clear were breathing difficulties, the stresses of the week in front of the world finally becoming too much.

Those four matches, though, were a glimpse of the daring, athletic, aggressive tennis that have since become her hallmark and which took her all the way to Grand Slam glory in New York.

“Worst” moment of the season: The way her Wimbledon ended

After she was unable to finish her match with Ajla Tomljanovic in the fourth round at Wimbledon, the teenager needed time for treatment and rest before she was able to put into words what had happened and how she felt. The details, she kept for herself, but she then had to deal with criticism from some former players who questioned whether she had the mental strength required to be at the top.

Tomljanovic came to her defence, though, saying: “I can’t imagine being in her shoes at 18 playing a fourth round in your home country. I have experienced something similar but not to that extent. I know that it’s a real thing. I’ve spoken to athletes that have gone through that. It’s not easy.”

It probably helped Raducanu that once she’d recovered, she headed off to the United States for her next run of events. And of course, we all know how the US Open ended.

Her self-assessment: “It’s pretty surreal”

In the wake of her US Open victory, Raducanu was in high demand, from fashion events and shoots to interviews and sponsor days, leading some to worry that she might be striking the right balance between tennis and other commitments. They need not have worried.

Looking back at how far I’ve come, it’s pretty surreal”

Emma Raducanu

“I made it very, very clear to every single person in my team that I was not going to cancel one training session or practise session for any off court commitments,” she said. “That was a non-negotiable for me because I wanted to make sure that that is my priority, and it is so everyone’s clear about that.

“I’ve been really enjoying everything since the US Open. But that was in the past and now I’m looking forward, but I don’t really want to like, dwell on it too much because I feel like I’ve got new goals and new things to to achieve and do it. And those are my goals and aspirations.

“Looking back at how far I’ve come, it’s pretty surreal,” she said. “I just really need to enjoy it because when I was in the beginning of the year, I never would have thought this is possible. So I’m kind of just really living in the moment right now.

Tennis Majors’ assessment: Patience will be key

Though Emma Raducanu is already a Grand Slam champion, there’s still a lot she has to learn about the rigours of the WTA Tour. Her game is outstanding, her athleticism and movement is top-notch and she’s only going to improve as the years go by.

But it’s also entirely possible that 2022 could be a tough year for her, a learning year. Everywhere she goes will be a new experience for her and she’ll be competing in big tournaments, week in, week out, with seasoned competitors gunning for her scalp. How she deals with any disappointment will be key to her progress and she – and the media – will need to be patient.

However, she has the game to be at or close to the top of the sport and the temperament for the big occasion, as she showed at Wimbledon and even more so the US Open. If she stays fit, soaks it all in around the Tour, she’s going to have some more outstanding moments in 2022.

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