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Emma Raducanu’s achievement is one of the most exceptional in British Sporting History

Emma Raducanu
Image courtesy si.robi via Flickr.

The favourites for Sports Personality of the Year have changed throughout the year at a rate not seen before. Marcus Rashford’s work throughout lockdown in challenging the government’s free school meal policy and campaign for racial justice place him standout at the start of this year. Raheem Sterling’s stellar performance on the pitch at the Euros was matched by similar actions in the campaign for racial justice. Then came the flood of Team GB Olympians making it another golden summer in a golden age for British Sport at the Summer Games. It seemed far-fetched that anything could topple this.

Step forward Emma Raducanu. US Open champion. As a qualifier. In her second ever grand slam. At 18 Years Old. Prize Money around £2.5 million.

The exceptional nature of the achievement, both in the literal and figurative sense of the word, is hard to to encapsulate in a paragraph of writing. So perhaps some statistics regarding herself and her achievement may help to set this into context.

First, she is the first British woman to win a grand slam since Virginia Wade in 1977. A wait of 44 years. Granted, this wasn’t at the same level of Andy Murray’s 2013 Wimbledon Victory ending a 77 year wait for a British Wimbledon champion (since Fred Perry in 1936), but still, a long enough wait for British tennis to endure after countless female stars haven’t quite achieved their possible potential.

Secondly, she’s 18 years old. In most other individual sports, this would perhaps be the most impressive aspect of the achievement, especially upon considering her relentlessness, composure and mental strength beyond her years. However, teenage grand slam champions aren’t new in women’s tennis- Iga ÅšwiÄ…tek was 19 upon winning the French Open just last year (she too didn’t drop a set in the entire tournament), Maria Sharapova probably the most famous example in winning Wimbledon at 17 years of age in 2004. Many more fill out the list too.

However, as alluded to in the previous paragraph, there are a multitude of standout factors in this US Open victory. She didn’t drop a set throughout the entire tournament- a cynic could perhaps put this down to an easy route or her catching fire at the right time to see her momentum carry herself through, but Raducanu faced sets in the tournament where the outcome was far from guaranteed- her first set against the in-form Belinda Bencic in the quarter final was on a knife edge (Bencic being one of the favourites for the tournament after her Olympic Gold last month and knocking out the ever reliable ÅšwiÄ…tek in the previous round). In the final, in the mid point of the first set, Leylah Fernandez looked to have the edge in dominating rallies and dragging Raducanu across the court, yet Raducanu stuck with her the whole way to break in the final game of set and to recover from a break down in the second set.

Another aspect are those she has knocked out on her quest to glory. Yes, admittedly it was probably a stroke of luck that Shelby Rogers’ victory over Ash Barty in the third round gave Raducanu a kinder fourth round draw, yet Raducanu wrenched Rogers’ form away from her in that fourth round match, going on to eviscerate her 6-2, 6-1. Maria Sakkari, who had a match point to reach the French Open final earlier this year, was too a favourite after a strong year and tournament (knocking out similarly consistent players in Karolína Plíšková and ex-US Open champion only 2 years ago, Bianca Andreescu, in previous rounds), was dispatched with similar ease 6-1, 6-4. Sara Sorribes Tormo has had a breakout year, yet was dispatched 6-0, 6-1 in round three.

Most incredible of all, she was a qualifier for the main draw. Not only was she first qualifier to win the US Open in history, she was the first ever qualifier to reach the final, and the first ever qualifier to reach the semi-final. Her seeding will rise by over 150 places in the WTA Rankings to #23 in the world as a result of her victory. In fact, one of her closest sets in the tournament was in her second qualifier.

Aside from a match in which she had a panic attack, she has never lost a match, or even dropped a set, at a grand slam. As a player, according to Tumaini Carayol, she has never won a WTA Tour match (the decision to warm up for the tournament at smaller prep tournaments paying dividends), played a tour level three set match, or directly entered the main draw of a grand slam (she was a wildcard entry at Wimbledon earlier this year). She hasn’t even played a match on clay. You wouldn’t put it past her at Roland Garros next year.

So those are just a selection of some of the bonkers stats. On the court, her athleticism, stamina, relentless aggression and accuracy of her shots made her unplayable at this tournament. Try and hit through her, like Fernandez and Bencic, she’ll stick with you all the way and pick off your tired body at the end. Try to go toe-to-toe with her for quality, and she’ll wipe the floor with you, as Rogers and Sorribes Tormo found out.

She has the tools to be a legend of the sport. Well, after one of the greatest achievements in British sporting history, she already is.


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