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There are many different types of magical moments in tennis: Epic matches, Grand Slam finals, major breakthroughs, stunning upsets. But there’s nothing quite like the shock of the new, that moment when fans get their first glimpse of a star in the making. Even if the player in question goes on to win hundreds of more important matches in the future, there’s nothing quite like being there for the debut performance.

Today’s star in the making is Emma Raducanu, and she’s very, very new. Even the most diehard tennis fans likely hadn’t heard her name before Andy Murray tweeted his encouragement to her this week. Raducanu is 18. Ranked 338th in the world, she made her WTA debut last month in Nottingham, and she’s from Great Britain, a country not known for churning out women tennis prodigies on a regular basis. The last time Raducanu played was at Wimbledon, in 2019, she lost in the first round of the girls’ event.

As of last week, she said she was thrilled just to be able to practice with pros like Marketa Vondrousova and Garbiñe Muguruza, and to get a second call back from Muguruza.

I’d never played such good tennis in some of the points. I was just having so much fun. Emma Raducanu

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“I was so chuffed just to be able to hit with her and see, like, how intense she was,” Raducanu said of Muguruza. “It definitely, like, made something click in my head: ‘Wow, this is the level I need to be training at. I need to be this intense if I want to achieve anything remotely near to what she has.’

“I even got the opportunity to hit with her again. That made me feel really good that I produced in the first hit.”

In fairytale fashion, Raducanu has gone from being a hitting partner to the stars one week, to the star of the ball herself the next. She beat Vondrousova in the second round, and on Saturday lit up No. 1 Court during her 6-3, 7-5 win over Sorana Cirstea, which was the most exciting match of the tournament so far.

A day after Murray made a disconsolate exit from Centre Court, British tennis had a fresh face to rally around in Raducanu.

Raducanu did it by playing very grown-up tennis. Raducanu hit 30 winners to Cirstea’s 18. She won 83 percent of points on her first serve, and allowed Cirstea only three break points. She attacked on return and broke serve five times. She showed off her shotmaking skills by rifling running crosscourt backhand passes for winners—she loves that shot as much as Murray loves his own forehand pass.

Raducanu is yet to drop a set through the first week of Wimbledon (Getty Images).

Raducanu is yet to drop a set through the first week of Wimbledon (Getty Images).

When Cirstea made her expected surge in the second set, Raducanu stood her ground. She lost a 15-minute game at 4-3, but bounced back a few minutes later to hold and break for the match. It felt like everyone had their hearts in their mouths as Raducanu powered her way through the final points.

“My emotions were, I just couldn’t put them into words really,” Raducanu said. “I was so overwhelmed. The last point, I kind of just dropped my racquet and fell to the floor. It was just also instinctive and in the moment. I had no idea what just happened.”

“Some of the points,” she said, “I’d never played such good tennis in some of the points. I was just having so much fun.”

The day before, Raducanu came out to No. 1 Court just to sit in the stands and get a feel for what the arena was like—that’s how new she is to all this.

“The way that I’m approaching my matches is each time I’m thinking to myself, ‘Why not?’ Someone has to be in the second week,” she said, “why not me?”

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One match does not a full-fledged prodigy make, of course. Ten years ago, Great Britain expected big things from Laura Robson, who was the world’s No. 1 junior at 16. But she had only sporadic success as a pro. And while Cirstea is a quality opponent, she’s ranked just 45th. But maybe it will help that Raducanu is having success on the pro tour before she has ever had to live up to the public’s expectations, which were always there for Robson.

Raducanu is British, but she’s also a lot more. Her father, Ian, is Romanian, and her mother, Renee, is Chinese; they both work in finance. Emma was born in Toronto, but grew up in London. Her tennis heroes are Li Na and Simona Halep. Raducanu fits well in a game that grows more globalized by the year.

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Andy Murray lent his support to Raducanu ahead of the Wimbledon fortnight.

You never know how a Cinderella story is going to turn out in tennis, but the last one we saw at Wimbledon, 15-year-old Coco Gauff’s run to the fourth round in 2019, is still going strong. The bold way in which Raducanu won the final games over Cirstea, and the way she harnessed the crowd’s energy rather than letting it get it to her—someone was watching Murray this week—are both positive signs.

Still, fairytale runs from tennis prodigies shouldn’t be about the future; they should be about the moment, because the moment is too exciting in itself to worry about what’s going to happen next. Raducanu, who is an A student at school and obviously a quick study, seems to understand that.

“I’m just trying to stay here as long as possible,” she says. “I’m just having such a blast.”