Emma Raducanu conquers US Open and New York hearts with an unprecedented triumph
New York, New York - Emma Raducanu wore the biggest grin as she hugged the US Open trophy after completing her New York fairy tale and one of the most astonishing feats in sport with victory over Leylah Fernandez.
Playing in just her second grand slam tournament, the 18-year-old from Kent won all 20 sets she played in qualifying and the main draw to become the first British woman to win a grand slam singles title since Virginia Wade lifted the Wimbledon trophy in 1977.
Raducanu was sitting her A-levels little more than three months ago having not played a competitive match for more than a year but she has burst onto the big stage like no-one before her.
Fernandez is only two months older having celebrated her 19th birthday earlier this week but the Canadian, who had claimed a host of big scalps, including defending champion Naomi Osaka, had no answer to the brilliance of Raducanu, who claimed a 6-4 6-3 victory in an hour and 51 minutes.
Her achievement is unprecedented. No qualifier had ever reached a slam final before, while she is the first woman ever to win a title in as few as two tournaments, and the youngest since Maria Sharapova triumphed at Wimbledon in 2004.
Fearless Raducanu makes history on a special day
Speaking to Amazon Prime Video, Raducanu said: "I'm still just so shocked, still in the moment. I can't believe I came through that last service game. It honestly means absolutely everything to hold this trophy. I just don't want to let go.
"Yesterday and this morning there were a few weird feelings that I couldn't put my finger on, I didn't know what it was, but I think that's just normal and when I came out on court I felt completely at home, business as usual, I was just focusing one point at a time.
"I think the level was extremely high, both of us were playing unbelievable tennis. I had to fight really hard to cling onto that first set and then just keep my nose in front in the second."
The evening began with a ceremony to remember the victims of the September 11 attacks 20 years ago – before both finalists were born.
Raducanu was already the first player ever to play 10 singles matches at the same slam, and she quickly shut down the suggestion there might be any pressure on her going into the final.
It certainly did not appear that way as she swung freely through the first game, clinching it with a cross-court backhand struck so true that Fernandez did not move.
This was a very different scenario for the Canadian, who had been the big underdog in her previous four matches but here found herself as the higher ranked and more experienced player.
The contest quickly became an almighty battle, Raducanu breaking for 2-0 on her sixth chance only for Fernandez to take her fourth opportunity to hit straight back.
The Raducanu return has been arguably the shot of the tournament and two sizzlers brought up two set points in the 10th game.
Fernandez saved both, and a third that followed, but on the fourth Raducanu drilled a forehand down the line before raising her arms and letting out a huge 'Come on'.
A winning shot fit for tennis' newest ace
Raducanu had three chances to break for 2-0 in the second but the Canadian dug in brilliantly to hold and then surged ahead with a break in another long game.
But back came Raducanu with more superb returning and a run of four games in a row took her to the brink of victory.
She held two match points at 5-2 but Fernandez was not finished, saving both and then forcing a break point as Raducanu attempted to serve it out.
To add to the tension, the British player was forced to take an injury timeout after grazing her leg sliding to the ball, much to the annoyance of Fernandez.
Raducanu saved the break point, and another, before bringing up her third match point. And this time she took it – with an ace.
Watching from the stands was Wade, also the last British woman to triumph in New York in 1968, and she applauded Raducanu with a smile to match the teenager's.
"It means so much to have Virginia here and also Tim (Henman)," said Raducanu before receiving the trophy from Billie Jean King.
"Just to have such British legends and icons for me to follow in their footsteps, it definitely helps and gave me the belief that I could actually do it."
Fernandez fought back tears on the podium but could reflect on a superb tournament.
She said: "It's incredible. I honestly have no idea what to say. Today's going to be hard to recuperate but Emma played amazing so I congratulate Emma and your team.
"I'm very proud of myself and the way I played these last two weeks and especially having the crowd. Thank you so much New York."
Cover photo: IMAGO / Paul Zimmer