When Emma Raducanu was interviewed in a press conference after her remarkable straight-sets victory over Leylah Fernandez she said “I faced a lot of adversity in every one of my matches here.” It isn’t immediately apparent when you look at her straight-sets winning record but there were key moments in all of the wins.
All of these moments seem to build towards the eventual title win. Each one teaches us, and taught Raducanu, more about her and her game. She learned from each match to become the package that was seen on Arthur Ashe stadium on Saturday. Let’s take a look at them now.
1. 2nd Qualifying Round – vs. Miriam Bolkvadze – Score: 6-3 5-5*
At this stage the aim for Raducanu was simply qualifying for a Grand Slam for the first time. She had lost in the final of WTA Challenger Chicago to Clara Tauson a few days earlier but had restored some confidence with victory in the opening qualifying round against Bibiane Schoofs.
The Georgian world #167 was deemed to be a tough test. Only 17 spots below Raducanu on the ranking list, this was meant to be a true test of the Briton’s potential. After winning a tight first set the second was even closer.Raducanu had already recovered from a break down to level at 4-4. She then served to stay in the set and at this point Raducanu realised she needed to step up her level to end the match.
She won eight points in a row to end the match. This demonstration of a change of gear in a decisive moment of a match is something that we would get used to over the following two and a half weeks.
2. 3rd Round – vs. Sara Sorribes Tormo – Score 1-0*
After fairly routine victories over Stefanie Voegele and Zhang Shuai, Raducanu met Sorribes Tormo. The Spaniard had kicked out the seeded Karolina Muchova in her section and the massive improvement that Sorribes Tormo had made on hard courts in 2021 meant that she came into the match as favorite.
The second game of this match proved to be the pivotal one. Sorribes Tormo looked to be heading for a comfortable hold but Raducanu won three points in a row to have break point. It wasn’t taken and this began a series of deuces. Five deuces later the Briton was finally able to break and take a lead that she would never surrender. The final score of 6-0 6-1 made the whole world sit up and take notice of the 18-year-old for the first time.
3. 4th Round – vs. Shelby Rogers – Score: 0*-2
Raducanu had lost her opening service game to Rogers after three deuces. The American had knocked out world #1 Ashleigh Barty in the last round and had begun by crunching her grounstrokes omniously.
In the third game Raducanu was down 15-40 and in serious trouble. She tightened her game up to save the break points and the winning of that game was a turning point. Raducanu won a remarkable 11 games in a row, just as she did against Sorribes Tormo. Again, a 6-2 6-1 scoreline against a player as competitive as Rogers was a sign of things to come.
4. Quarterfinal – vs. Belinda Bencic – Score: 2-3*
Up against the Olympic Gold medalist and hugely in-form Swiss Raducanu had a tough start. She was down a break in the opening set but had just held to love and began to find her flow.
The return of serve that had been totally absent since the beginning of the match returned. It took two set points to level up the set, but a mixture of Bencic feeling the heat and Raducanu turning up the pressure on her groundstrokes helped to turn this set in the Briton’s favour. Another break in Bencic’s next service game sealed the set. Another straight sets victory saw Raducanu into the semifinal.
5. Semifinal – vs. Maria Sakkari – Score: 6-1 4*-3
On the brink of yet another comfortable victory Raducanu hit a tricky spot. Serving with a break she was under serious pressure at 0-40. However, it had almost become a trademark of the Brit to hold serve from behind in the count.
A series of excellent first serves and quality rallies saved the initial three break points. The game wasn’t over though. There were four deuces and another two break points to save before a decisive 5-3 lead was taken. All this under the pressure of the opportunity of getting into a Grand Slam final.
6. Final – vs. Leylah Fernandez – Score: 6-4 1-2*
In fairness, any point in this final was key. However, at this stage Fernandez had just broken Raducanu’s serve having just held from 0-40. There seemed to be an important momentum switch but Raducanu again returned to playing a single point on its merits.
The Briton broke straight back with her usual brand of deep, powerful groundstrokes. At this stage she became more aggressive on return. Instead of just getting the ball back in play deep and central Raducanu looked for winners off the return. This in turn increased the pressure on Fernandez and the second serve win% dropped.
Mental fortitude and the help of former legends
At all stages in this tournament Raducanu displayed one key attribute. Focus. The 18-year-old is clearly an intelligent person, on and off the court. Those exam results prove one side of that but her choice of shot, ability to play to a game plan and, most importantly, the mental fortitude to focus on one point at a time regardless of the importance of that point is remarkable. This, more than anything, is what makes most experts so confident in her having a great career.
Raducanu referred to former British male #1 Tim Henman a couple of times in interviews. The former US Open semifinalist was often at courtside in her matches covering the tournament for a UK broadcaster. Raducanu said in an interview after defeating Maria Sakkari that Henman was “helping me treat one point at a time.”
It will be interesting now to see if this seemingly impregnable mentality is challenged moving forwards. Despite what she may believe now following such a unique triumph the pressure will be on her. Yes, from opponents, but now also from the public. Wimbledon will never be the same again for her now, in fact, every tournament she enters Raducanu will be a scalp. Sponsors, endorsements, tournament directors and fans in the stands will be expecting big performances from the Briton.
Can she live up to the pressure? Only time will tell, but the signs are promising.