Emma Raducanu works her spell on Maria Sakkari to continue stunning Wimbledon run

As Emma Raducanu hoisted up a backhand lob on the run that almost brushed the rafters on Centre Court, the Wimbledon crowd held their breath as the ball began its descent. Raducanu had managed to strike first against Maria Sakkari, the Greek ninth seed, and was rewarded for her attacking intent on break points. This defensive lob, though, on the stretch, felt a step too far, but as it dropped inside the baseline and Centre Court erupted, it became the moment that encapsulated this stunning 6-2 6-3 win. Raducanu is bringing the magic of New York to SW19.

She is having fun, too, and as Raducanu returned to the fourth round of Wimbledon for the first time since her big breakthrough in 2021, there were clear parallels to that US Open title. For a start, her beaten opponent Sakkari had been vanquished in the semi-finals as Raducanu captured that sensational grand slam triumph as an 18-year-old qualifier. Three years on, Raducanu brought the same fearlessness to Centre Court, and now similar possibilities are opening up ahead. On Sunday, she will face Lulu Sun from New Zealand, the world 123, for a place in the quarter-finals.

“I think today was really up there with the most fun I have had on a tennis court, I really enjoyed every single moment,” Raducanu said. “I’m most proud of how focused and determined I was in every single point, in every single moment. Maria [Sakkari] is a top 10 opponent. In a way, I came in with a free swing. But she is so tough, she has amazing weapons, I knew I had to battle. I tried to not let the scoreline affect me. You just have to play every point like it could be your last.”

Raducanu reaches the fourth round of Wimbledon for a second time (Reuters)
Raducanu reaches the fourth round of Wimbledon for a second time (Reuters)

For the second time in her young career, Raducanu had Sakkari under her spell in a match that was all about bravery in the big moments. The ninth seed had as many opportunities as Raducanu in the opening set, more in the second, but the 21-year-old was ruthlessly efficient on serve and clinical on the returns. Raducanu saved all seven break points she faced, conjuring big first serves and forehand winners to stay ahead. In front of the pressure of the home crowd, Raducanu served out leads impressively in both sets and played with freedom on the returns. Centre Court loved it.

After her storming win over Elise Mertens in the second round, Raducanu was granted her wish of playing under the roof due to heavy rain in SW19, resulting in a constant pitter-patter from above. Raducanu, though, was elevated to Centre Court for her rematch against Sakkari, ranked ninth in the world. The Greek was the highest-ranked player Raducanu defeated on her way to winning the US Open three years ago, in what was arguably the Briton’s finest performance of her fortnight: a 6-1 6-4 steamroller that paved the way to her historic title. They had not met since.

Both players attempted to declare themselves as the underdog, with Raducanu pointing out she was up against a top-10 opponent and Sakkari insisting the grand slam champion and home player was the favourite. But as was the case in 2021, Raducanu broke Sakkari in her first service game and it set the tone in the opening set as the Briton attacked from the front and did not allow Sakkari to strike level. The Greek is a powerful player but was often out-hit in the biggest moments.

Raducanu shakes hands with Sakkari after knocking out the world No 9 (Reuters)
Raducanu shakes hands with Sakkari after knocking out the world No 9 (Reuters)

Like Mertens in the previous round, Sakkari gave Raducanu pace to bring out her aggressive, attacking game. While the Greek was a step up in firepower, she is also capable of lapses and big errors, accumulating a series of tough defeats in the grand slams. Despite being ranked in the top 10 in the world the past two years, Sakkari had failed to reach the second week of a major in her previous nine attempts.

In the opening game of the match, Sakkari was broken from a comfortable position, with a double fault on deuce and a forehand miss on break point. With another early lead to build on, Raducanu was constantly made to answer questions from her opponent but answered them emphatically. A vital hold came at 3-2 after Raducanu made a double fault followed by a forehand miss, but she saved the break point brilliantly with a forehand winner up the line.

Raducanu was clinical on the break points (Reuters)
Raducanu was clinical on the break points (Reuters)

The pressure on Sakkari was clear: a double fault on 30-30 handed Raducanu the chance to break and her defence on the baseline produced the shot of the match. Retrieving a driven forehand from Sakkari that failed to find the corner, Raducanu lifted up a stunning backhand from six feet deep, dropping inside the line to an eruption on Centre Court. Raducanu grinned as she pumped her fist at her box. As she served out the set, another two break points were saved, both again with positive play: an ace and forehand winner. Raducanu did not hesitate on any of the pressure points and took the set 6-2.

The second followed the same pattern, building on an important hold in the opening game on serve before immediately ramping up the pressure on Sakkari on the return. Like Raducanu so often did in New York, she jumped on the returns with two backhand winners in a row. Sakkari, unable to breath for a moment on serve, was forced into further errors as Raducanu took the important break to lead at the start of the second set. Raducanu was barely allowed to make a simple hold but found another ace when facing break point to stay ahead.

A backhand winner on the return brought match point against the Sakkari serve but the Greek saved with a forehand winner. Raducanu, though, kept coming and a double fault from Sakkari brought a further opportunity, where a forehand miss from the Greek sent Raducanu back into the fourth round with a smile on her face. And that, if history can be a lesson, suggests something special may be brewing at Wimbledon.

Meanwhile, Sonay Kartal’s impressive Wimbledon campaign ended in the third round after a straight-sets loss to US Open champion Coco Gauff. World number 298 Kartal only won three games at the All England Club last year but managed more than that against Gauff and even broke the American in the first set on Court One.

Kartal held her own in several long rallies before Gauff eventually proved too strong with a 6-4 6-0 victory, but the British number nine could be proud of her week’s work in SW19, which has pocketed her £143,000 in prize money and memories to last a lifetime.