Emma Raducanu shuts out the noise to live in the moment of historic US Open run

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Emma Raducanu extended her dream run at the US Open with victory over Belinda Bencic in the quarter-finals  (Getty Images)
Emma Raducanu extended her dream run at the US Open with victory over Belinda Bencic in the quarter-finals (Getty Images)

Amid all the talk of broken records and history re-written, Emma Raducanu continues to take her improbable journey one step at a time. The 18-year-old is the first qualifier in the history of the US Open to reach the semi-finals and is one match away from becoming the first British woman to reach a Grand Slam final since 1977.

Raducanu’s performances have been spellbinding, her dramatic rise so unexpected that the teenager arrived in New York anticipating an early flight home, having booked her return to the UK for the end of qualifying. Now, eight matches and zero dropped sets later, the Londoner faces 17th seed Maria Sakkari in the next chapter of her remarkable run. The fact that she plays Sakkari in the final four tonight, rather than world No 4 Karolina Pliskova, adds to the sense of opportunity that has so excitedly arisen at Flushing Meadows.

It will be a quick turnaround, as she emerges back onto the towering but now familiar Arthur Ashe court a little more than 24 hours after dispatching Olympic champion Belinda Bencic 6-3, 6-4 in the quarter-finals. Raducanu has made the step up with each passing round and sparkled yet again as she dismantled the in-form world No 12 with relative ease.

It is easy to see why so many in the game have been blown away by her talent and application. The teenager is on a steep learning curve but is absorbing knowledge at an astonishing rate following her fairy-tale breakthrough at Wimbledon earlier this summer. Raducanu made a nervy start against the big-serving Bencic and was broken in her opening service game, just as she was in the previous round against Shelby Rogers, but she quickly settled and took charge.

Raducanu rattled Bencic’s first serve with her aggressive returns, forcing the Swiss to overcommit – just as Rogers had been pushed into attempting spectacular winners that were not there to be hit. In both cases, and throughout the tournament, Raducanu has picked apart her opponent’s strengths and flipped the script in exerting her own. No player in New York has won a higher percentage of points when returning serve and the teenager has consistently played on the front foot with a controlled confidence.

As the shadows from the midday sun stretched further across the court on Arthur Ashe and Raducanu clinched the opening set, the match had progressed into what was remarkably a one-sided contest. Raducanu was prevailing in the longer rallies and was finding joy with her sliced serve out wide, claiming several points with her quickfire one-two punch as she racked up the winners.

But for each of those 23 unreturned strokes, her most impressive moments of the match came when she found herself in a hole at 0-30 at both 4-3 and 5-4 as she served for the second set. It was a crucial test of mental strength and one that she passed with aplomb. Afterwards, she credited her parents, father Ian and mother Renee, for instilling her with a positive attitude from an early age.

“I think that the calmness and mental strength definitely comes from my upbringing,” she said. “When you are serving out a match on such a big stage, to go into your first semi-finals of a Slam, you definitely need a sense of calm to get through that moment, especially at 0-30, to just reset and focus on what I could control. I knew exactly what patterns I was going to play and was just very focussed and in the moment. I wasn’t getting ahead of myself.”

Emma Raducanu paid tribute to her parents after defeating Belinda Bencic (Getty Images)
Emma Raducanu paid tribute to her parents after defeating Belinda Bencic (Getty Images)

It’s a mindset that Raducanu has championed throughout her extended stay in New York but in a fascinating twist, her upcoming opponent in tonight’s match admitted to doing the opposite at the French Open three months ago. Sakkaria had a match point on serve as she took on Barbora Krejcikova for a place in the Roland Garros final but said she got “stressed” as her opponent broke back before going on to edge the three-set thriller.

“I started thinking that I was a point away from being in the final. It’s a rookie mistake,” she said afterwards. “If I give myself another chance to be in that position I know I don’t have to do it again. I’ll learn from it.” Sakkaria now has that opportunity after defeating Pliskova, in the latest upset of a thrilling US Open. The Greek won an astonishing 24 of 26 points on the back of her first serve as she claimed a 6-4, 6-4 win without giving up a single break point, and her redemption arc is one of a number of intriguing sub-plots ahead of Thursday’s final four.

There is none, however, as appealing as a potential final between Raducanu and Canadian Leylah Fernandez, the recently turned 19-year-old whose own rise through the tournament has been as dramatic as Raducanu’s. The pair have known each other since they were competing in the juniors at age 11 and have emerged simultaneously onto centre stage to become the youngest US Open semi-finalist since Maria Sharapova in 2005, motivating each other throughout their tournament runs to push for greater heights.

Raducanu, though, is only focussed on her own path; step by step and point by point. “I think to compare yourself and your results against anyone is probably the thief of happiness,” Raducanu said. “Everyone is doing their own thing. I mean, I didn’t compete for 18 months but here I am. It just shows that if you believe in yourself anything is possible.”

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