A new year, a new Emma Raducanu on her way to the US Open

When the Western & Southern draw broke in Cincinnati, all eyes were on the first-round match between Emma Raducanu and Serena Williams.

Among them, of course, Raducanus.

“I got a text that said, ‘You’re playing Serena, exclamation point,'” she said. “I just landed from Toronto. To be honest, my first reaction was, “Wow, that’s written, and that’s a gift. I can not believe it. You have to cherish that moment and that memory will stay with you for the rest of your career.’”

Raducanu met the moment with unnatural grace and composure. She defeated Williams 6-4, 6-0 in just 65 minutes. Of the 90 points played, Raducanu had an unforced error.

Watch this: Emma Raducanu honors Serena Williams after victory in Cincinnati

2022 Cincinnati

She was particularly glad that she wasn’t intimidated by the circumstances.

“That’s what I focused on the most, just being really, really present and thinking about my game, thinking about what I needed to do,” she said. “But I’m not trying to go too high or too low right now. I’m just trying to stay on one path and track because I feel like I’ve been to both ends of it.

Broadcaster Mary Carillo, who will be based in New York for World Feed, was impressed by the small sample she saw.

“She’s real,” Carillo said. “She has beautiful shots, great concept of the game. I haven’t seen her in person since last year’s US Open. So I don’t know if her game fell off or if her fame made her game harder to play.

Maybe a bit of both.

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Out of nowhere

A year ago, Raducanu was just another aspiring 18-year-old looking to make an impact in the world of professional tennis.

She arrived at the Billie Jean King USTA National Tennis Center with all six WTA level matches on her resume (three wins) and a No. 150 ranking. And then she did something no one had ever done before. In only her second major tournament, she won three qualifiers and then seven in a row in the main draw, including the US Open final against fellow teenage fellow Leylah Fernandez.

Photo by Darren Carroll/USTA

Raducanu became the first qualifier to win a Grand Slam singles title in the Open Era – and she didn’t lose a single set.

With that came the perfect marketing storm. Born in Canada to a Chinese mother and Romanian father, Raducanu is a British citizen. Its surprising success drew lucrative promotional offers from some of the top luxury brands. Today, those deals are worth more than $14 million and she has amassed 2.4 followers on Instagram.

Raducanu was named WTA Newcomer of the Year and became the first tennis player since Virginia Wade in 1977 to win BBC Sports Personality of the Year, as well as awards from ESPN, Laureus and the London Times. Earlier this year, Raducanu was named a member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire – not quite on par with Sir Winston Churchill or Stephen Hawking, but a peer of Adele, Ed Sheeran and Harry Kane.

The tennis thing?

En route to Cincinnati last week, Raducanu had lost 18 of 31 matches since winning the US Open last year. And then – it has to be those American hard courts – she defeated Grand Slam champions Williams and Victoria Azarenka in the space of 24 hours. Raducanu lost just six games total – eventually winning 17 straight games against the two.

“I knew I had to be on my game, but I kind of supported myself and my own game,” Raducanu said afterwards. “I think against both obviously starting the point is very important because Vika has incredible returns and Serena is probably the best serve in the game. I just had to focus on what I could control and in the points you can’t think about who’s at the other end of the field. You just have to play the ball.”

Earlier this month, Raducanu offered a perspective.

“Obviously, to be successful at a young age you have to be really grateful because I’m doing what I love, but I’ve also found success a lot earlier than I ever really thought I would,” Raducanu said in Toronto. “I’m pretty proud of myself in that regard.

“But it’s been a tough year. I definitely went through and experienced a lot of challenges. To be fair, I’ve learned a lot from all of this.”

Sofia Kenin also experienced a steep learning curve. At the age of 21, she won her first major title, the 2020 Australian Open. A French Open final followed later that year.

“I felt more pressure from outside,” said Kenin. “I tried to do my best but obviously some nerves got the best of me. I put more pressure on myself because I felt like it was expected of me every time. That’s unrealistic unless you’re like Novak [Djokovic] or like Rafa [Nadal]. serena [Williams]to.”

Raducanu tested positive for COVID-19 in the pre-season. Nevertheless, she expected great things from herself in 2022 – and so did the fans. Unsurprisingly, she’s been a hot topic on social media platforms.

“Whatever you do, you’re going to get criticism, but that doesn’t matter,” she said in Toronto. “People will still find a way to say something. I think that’s something I just realized. I don’t spend a lot of time looking at it…you see a bad one, you might see one that’s a bit unfavorable, and that’s what sticks in your mind.”

In Cincinnati, Raducanu finds her freedom again

Raducanu won two matches at the Citi Open in Washington, DC but lost a first-round match in Toronto to Camila Giorgi. She caught fire in Cincinnati, winning those matches against Williams and Azarenka before losing in straight sets to top 10 player Jessica Pegula.

“I lost a lot of matches from leadership situations and probably just played too tight,” said Raducanu in Cincinnati. “I think I’ve just got to swing, and I just said that in those two tournaments, or this tournament in particular, I’m just going to swing freely and see what happens.”

That’s exactly what she will do at the US Open as she defends her title.

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