Photo credit: Sky News
Emma Raducanu’s US Open triumph is a story so unfathomable that if it was turned into a film it would be unlikely to make much money due to its ‘terrible screenwriting’ as suggested by comedian Dara O’Briain.
Yet a humble, classy and fiercely determined 18-year-old from a quiet south east London town re-wrote the realms of possibility by creating quite possibly one of the greatest sporting stories of all time.
What Raducanu achieved in front of nearly 24,000 people crammed into the Arthur Ashe Stadium wasn’t just a monumental sporting moment though; it was a symbol of hope, a celebration of diversity and proof that actions really do speak louder than words.
Let’s start by focusing purely on her achievements on the court, this list of which is staggering enough by itself.
Raducanu became the first ever qualifier to win a Grand Slam tournament; the first British woman to win a major since Virginia Wade in 1977; the first player born in 2002 to win one of tennis’ highest calibre events and the first woman to win in only their second major appearance.
In addition, she was also the 12th youngest player to win a Grand Slam tournament and the youngest since a 17-year-old Maria Sharapova took victory at Wimbledon in 2004.
The list doesn’t stop there either. Sitting at 150 in the world before the start of the competition at Flushing Meadows, Raducanu is one of the lowest ranked players to ever win a major and only the sixth to win at their first appearance at one of tennis’ ‘Big Four’ events.
Finally, she didn’t drop a single set across 10 matches in three weeks, joining an elite club in the process. Helen Willis holds the record for the player who achieved this the most, doing so nine times between 1928-1938. Serena Williams has completed the feat on six occasions, Rafael Nadal four and Roger Federer two. Novak Djokovic has yet to do it.
To be the standout moment in what has been a superb summer of sport for British athletes shows just how important Raducanu’s accomplishment was. After a horrendous 18 months for so many, being able to watch this fresh-faced, smiling teenager have the time of her life and pulling off something incredible was blissful.
It allowed us to forget everything else, to finally enjoy the moment we were living in once again and look ahead to the future with hope and excitement for the first time in what feels like forever.
Of course, the surrounding context does help. Unlike previous sporting events this year, there was little negative background noise surrounding Raducanu’s extraordinary run. The final itself was held in a full stadium, with respectful fans appreciating high quality tennis being contested amongst two players with very different and very unique backgrounds.
Even then though, following Raducanu’s progress back home it felt there was a seismic shift in our approach to reflecting upon sporting success.
At a time where British society has never been more aware of issues surrounding gender, ethnicity and culture – which has led to a lot of divisions (particularly on social media) – it felt as though all of those were almost put aside as we all rejoiced in simply supporting Raducanu, regardless of anything else.
Of course there were plenty of mentions of the fact that she is a female athlete and of her multi-cultural background – she was born in Canada to a Romanian father and a Chinese mother before moving to Great Britain aged two.
But rather than focusing on these elements, it felt as though they were merely just part of her ridiculous story. We were all – men, women and children alike – appreciating sporting greatness being made by a young British athlete regardless of her gender, skin colour, class or anything like that.
This wasn’t just a triumph of sporting excellence; it was a triumph of acceptance too.
Despite the fact that Raducanu has already won millions of fans during her so far brief tenure at the top of women’s tennis, not everyone has been quite so positive when discussing the teenager previously.
Following her withdrawal from the fourth round of Wimbledon due to breathing difficulties, some took to social media or tabloids to criticise the teenager for, in their opinion, not being mentally strong enough to have what it takes to win.
Clearly they were not taking into account that this was a teenager making her first ever major tournament appearance and had already caused three big upsets in the previous rounds.
In an era where so many athletes get drawn into social media spats (often when they shouldn’t), Raducanu remained quiet and diligently got on with the business of proving them completely wrong.
By saying nothing, coming back to win the very next Grand Slam tournament and lifting the trophy with the widest grin in New York, an individual who is only just old enough to vote showed us all that the best way to humiliate your critics is to do exactly what they suggested you never could or would.
Whatever happens next for Raducanu, the moment that final ace dropped onto the line and evaded the racket of Leylah Fernandez is something that will forever be etched into the minds of everyone who saw it.