NEW YORK (Dispatches) — British teenager Emma Raducanu arrived in New York last month with a ranking of 150th, just one Grand Slam appearance to her name and a flight booked to head out of town after the U.S. Open’s preliminary rounds in case she failed to win her way into the main tournament.
And there she was in Arthur Ashe Stadium on Saturday, cradling the silver trophy to complete an unlikely – indeed, unprecedented – and surprisingly dominant journey from qualifier to major champion by beating Canadian teenager Leylah Fernandez 6-4, 6-3 in the final.
“The future of women’s tennis, and just the depth of the game right now, is so great,” said the 18-year-old Raducanu, who will rise into the WTA’s top 25 on Monday. “I think every single player here in the women’s draw definitely has a shot of winning any tournament.”
The first female qualifier ever to reach a Grand Slam final, let alone win one, proved that emphatically. She captured 10 matches in a row at Flushing Meadows – three in qualifying, seven in the main draw – and is the first woman to win the U.S. Open title without dropping a set since Serena Williams in 2014.
This was the first major final between two teens since Williams, 17, beat Martina Hingis, 18, at the 1999 U.S. Open and the first between two unseeded women in the professional era, which began in 1968.
Raducanu broke to go up 4-2 in the second set, held for 5-2 and twice was a point from winning the title in the next game. But under pressure from Fernandez, she let both of those opportunities slip away by putting groundstrokes into the net.
“That’s just the competitor that she is,” Raducanu said about Fernandez, whom she last faced in the second round of the Wimbledon juniors event three years ago.