You Should Know: Emma Raducanu at the US Open

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NEW YORK—Don’t let that broad smile fool you. Do not be deceived by the giggles that sometimes interrupt her speech. Try to avoid falling for the wide-eyed wonder she expresses, as her remarkable journey in tennis gets more and more improbable.

Emma Raducanu is fearless, but we knew that already in June after watching her matches at Wimbledon. What we have discovered at the US Open is that the 18-year-old British sensation is also merciless. That’s the word that comes to mind to describe the way she demolished Shelby Rogers—the conqueror of top seed Ash Barty—on Monday in Raducanu’s first appearance in Arthur Ashe Stadium.

The fourth-round match barely cracked the one-hour mark (1:06) before it ended with Raducanu winning, 6-2, 6-1. As Rogers said afterwards, “She was on Ashe for the first time today, so lots of challenges, but she absolutely capitalized on the moment.”

Labor Day? You’ve got to be kidding.

“It feels absolutely amazing to play in front of all of you,” the beaming winner told the spectators in her on-court interview. “I’m so happy I came through and overcame some of the nerves in the beginning.”

This was the lithe, athletic British qualifier’s seventh consecutive win at this tournament, and she hasn’t lost a set yet. But unlike the other two 18-year-old sensations who lit up the first week of play, Leylah Fernandez (who turned 19 on Monday) and Carlos Alcaraz, Raducanu had not appeared on Ashe. She was curious to experience the vibe on the world’s largest dedicated tennis court, and compare it to her experience at Wimbledon.

Before the warm-up with Rogers, Raducanu sat in her chair gazing up to the upper reaches of Ashe as fans slowly filed back into the arena.

“I was soaking it all in, really trying to enjoy the moment,” she said. “It’s something that you dream of, to play on Ashe. And it was so soon [in my career] that I didn’t really expect it. I really wanted to be in the present.”

GettyImages-1235091685

GettyImages-1235091685

At Wimbledon, Raducanu’s breakout was unexpectedly halted in her fourth-round meeting with veteran Ajla Tomljanovic. Trailing 6-4, 3-0, Raducanu suddenly found herself dizzy and unable to breath. She called for the trainer, left the court, and never returned following an examination by medical staff. She later denied rumors that she had suffered an anxiety attack, telling the BBC: “I think that it was a combination of everything that has gone on behind the scenes in the last week, the accumulation of the excitement, the buzz.”

That reaction was understandable, for Raducanu had come out of nowhere to win the hearts of her British compatriots. She played no competitive tennis for about 18 months prior to this year’s Wimbledon tune-up at Eastbourne in early June—a combination of the coronavirus pandemic and her parents’ insistence that she finish school before fully dedicating herself to the sport. A few months ago, Raducanu completed the British equivalent of a high-school education when she completed her “A-levels” exams.

Raducanu made good use of the otherwise dispiriting pandemic. She trained at the Lawn Tennis Association’s National Tennis Center in London, working with elite coach Mark Petchey when her coach, Phiulippe Dehaes, was unable to make it to England due to travel restrictions. Petchey helped Raducanu adapt to a different forehand grip better suited to generating topspin.

But no amount of technical analysis or film study is going to adequately explain Radacanu’s stunning debut as a Grand Slam competitor. Even better, any suspicion that her performance at Wimbledon was a fluke has been banished. This time around, it was easier for Raducanu, who seems to enjoy feeding off the energy of a raucous crowd more than off the gravitas of Wimbledon.

“There is definitely a lot more going on in New York than at Wimbledon,” Raducanu said after crowd support helped her polish off Sara Sorribes Tormos—one of the toughest outs in tennis—in her third-round match. “Like everything is just dead silent at Wimbledon when you're playing, but here there is a lot more going on. I enjoy the crowd [here] just as much. Like their support helps me so much.”

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GettyImages-1338752764

Wimbledon left Raducanu better prepared for the Grand Slam experience in New York. It has also helped that the hype here has been evenly distributed among the three 18-year olds. All of them feel as if they have company, inspiration and perhaps even a hint of competition for bragging rights among their peers. As the man for whom the stadium is named famously said, “A rising tide lifts all boats.”

“To have so many young players coming through is just really great for the game, because it just shows how strong this next generation is,” Raducanu said. “I think we all inspire each other to play better. Because like for me today, I wanted to join them in the second week as well, so that was an extra bit of motivation.”

As if she needed the help. Those nerves she mentioned? They accounted for Raducanu losing her first service game and allowing Rogers a hold. Then Raducanu furiously ran off 11 consecutive games. Rogers, feeling the aftereffects of her win over Barty just about 48 hours earlier, struggled the entire way.

Rogers is a shotmaker, so unforced errors are part of her way of doing business. But her 29 unforced—19 with her usually reliable backhand—averaged out to almost two per game, a stat nobody can afford. That, despite the fact that Rogers, one of the better servers in the WTA, put an impressive 78 percent of her first serves into play.

Like everything is just dead silent at Wimbledon when you're playing, but here there is a lot more going on. I enjoy the crowd [here] just as much. Emma Raducanu

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The most striking thing, though, was the relentlessly fierce focus Raducanu maintained from the first moment to the last. She pumped her fist when she tagged winners, ran out of her chair like her hair was on fire after changeovers, once twirling the racquet in her hand as if it were a six-shooter while she waited for Rogers to take up position.

Raducanu’s mind never wandered, her concentration never wavered. She showed not a trace of pity and certainly never any disrespect for her struggling foe. She was so overpowering that she effectively denied the crowd the chance to do what they do best—inspire and drag an underdog over the finish line.

“Fun” hardly seemed to be the right word to describe what she was doing out there. But guess what?

“I really enjoy playing, and I think that when I'm playing my best is when I'm having fun and smiling,” she said later. “That's when the best tennis comes out, and sometimes shots that you never expect to make, they come off the strings and they happen.”

They happened in droves on Monday, and now Raducanu has a quarterfinal date with Olympic gold medalist Belinda Bencic.