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The first sit-down
The watching Tim Henman, who has been cited by Emma Raducanu as an inspiration in New York, told Amazon Prime viewers that he had spotted quite a few shanks and miscues during the warm-up hit between the two teenagers at the start of Saturday night’s final. He suspected nerves on both sides. But then, as soon the umpire called play, Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez flew at each other with high intensity and superb ball-control.
As a spectator in the lower decks of the cavernous Arthur Ashe Stadium, you have to be there for the start or you cannot enter until the first changeover, which comes after three games. Latecomers must have rued their error, as they were not allowed in until 34 points had elapsed. The clock was already standing at 23 minutes. Each player had inflicted one break of serve, leaving Raducanu 2-1 ahead.
Fernandez was behind, but she had showed her class on the second break point she faced, stringing together four extraordinary retrieval shots before switching the momentum of the rally and firing a forehand winner into the open court. She is immensely quick over the ground, with delicate hands and a feisty attitude that belies her slender 5ft 6in frame. To combat this extra skill and court-coverage, Raducanu played more aggressively than in her previous matches, taking on more risky down-the-line shots and making fewer steady, conservative crosscourt drives.
“Emma did say she was going to go down the line because that’s the only way to win points,” explained Martina Navratilova on commentary. “Crosscourt takes too long to get there. You have to go down the line for the ball to get there quicker.”
After the match, Raducanu herself made the same point in a slightly different way. Asked by Henman to explain her tactical plan, she replied “Changing direction as early as possible, because if you gave it to her [in the same place] a couple of times, she would change [direction] on you and you were running. And she is extremely good at that.”
The seizing of control
Anyone who has played so much as a club doubles match knows how heavy the racket grows at moments of crisis or significance. So it is hard to work out which is more extraordinary: the balance, timing and core strength that Raducanu uses to produce her venomous winners, or the mental strength that allows her to conceive and deploy them on the biggest points.
Either way, she clinched her two crucial breaks with a pair of brutal punches. The first came as Fernandez served to stay in the first set at 4-5, and took the form of a screaming forehand up the line. The second was a dismissive crosscourt backhand return winner to bring the second set back on serve at 2-2.
Raducanu’s all-round game has been a revelation in this event. It has no obvious chinks, apart from a disinclination to hit overheads – an issue that also afflicts male world No 1 Novak Djokovic. But it is Raducanu’s return that has shone above all. Coming into the final, she had won 62 per cent of her return points in the tournament.
When her opponent misses a first serve, she steps up to meet the second serve inside the baseline. Her preparation is extremely compact on both wings, and her swings short and punchy. As a result, she can meet the ball as it is still on the way up and hurry her opponent. If the second serve drops short, or comes in slowly, she tends to aim for a clean winner. If not, she bangs it back deep and central with such venom that her opponent often misses with the next shot.
The blood injury
The sense of destiny at work was only underlined by the bizarre stoppage that interrupted the last game of the match. Raducanu was about to face a break point as she served for victory at 6-4, 5-3. But then she looked down at her left knee and saw a stream of blood trickling down to her ankle.
On the 30-30 point of that tense game, Fernandez had struck such a superb backhand up the line that Raducanu contorted herself into an unusual position as she slid across the baseline looking for a desperate retrieval lob. She did at least manage to put the ball back into play, but the more significant issue was that she took the skin off her left knee in the process.
Raducanu looked at chair umpire Marijana Veljovic, who instructed her to sit down and wait for the trainer. Fernandez became extremely agitated at this point, berating the supervisor – who happened to be former British No 1 Clare Wood – and complaining that the delay was hindering her. After the match, she explained that “I didn't know how serious her fall was … It was just too bad that it happened in that specific moment, with me with the momentum. But it's sports, it's tennis. Just got to move on.”
The rules on this point are clear. “If a player is bleeding,” says the grand-slam rulebook, “the chair umpire must stop play as soon as possible, and the sports physiotherapist must be called to the court … [the] chair umpire may allow up to a total of five minutes to assure control of the bleeding.”
In this instance, the stoppage lasted between four and five minutes. And when play resumed, Raducanu saved that break point – plus the next one – before clinching victory with an ace.
From a British perspective, this tournament began with Andy Murray’s passionate objections to Stefanos Tsitsipas’s bathroom breaks, and finished with Raducanu calmly taking an obligatory medical time-out in her stride. In between, it was a magical, unforgettable fortnight.