Perhaps it was not quite the Beatles playing their most famous concert at the former Shea Stadium, adjacent to Flushing Meadows, but there was a taste of it for Emma Raducanu.
When the new US Open champion paraded the trophy to fans on Saturday evening a certain mania was in the air. The whole world wants to know the name of the 18-year-old from Kent.
Several hours later Raducanu was quietly seated in the modest confines of the media canteen, mothballed this year due to the small numbers allowed on site. Speaking to the tiny knot of reporters from home, she was trying to take it all in.
The hype around tennis star and new US Open winner Emma Raducanu is akin to ‘Beatlemania’
The 18-year-old from Kent made history winning at Flushing Meadows without dropping a set
‘It’s crazy to think, three months ago I was in an exam hall and now I’ve been on the biggest court in the world,’ she summarised, still wide-eyed. What came across in this less formal setting was not just some kind of joyful innocence, but the extent to which she has insulated herself from outside pressures over the past two weeks.
She did not know the Queen had stayed up to watch her match, she was unaware that terrestrial TV had jumped in on the coverage. She had no idea, until someone showed it to her on their phone, how many Instagram followers she now has. The number had risen from 650,000 to over a million in the previous 24 hours.
‘No! What? It’s changed to an M now, not a K!’ she exclaimed. ‘That’s incredible. I can’t believe it. I got an M! Wow.’ Yet by now nobody should confuse what may be the charming naivety of an 18-year-old off the court with the person who wields a racket within the painted white lines.
The Brit defeated fellow teenager, Canadian Leylah Fernandez (left), in the final on Saturday
You cannot go out in the febrile atmosphere in front of 24,000 people in the US Open final and play like she did without having steel in the soul. The same could be said of her opponent 19-year-old Leylah Fernandez.
Some people might have thought that there was weakness — and the usual suspects broadcast the opinion — when Raducanu became temporarily overwhelmed during Wimbledon’s fourth round two months previously.
Quietly but firmly, she stated that in the past fortnight she has made her point, and that those who suggested an excess of vulnerability at SW19 were wrong.
Raducanu has firmly stated accusations of a mental issue at Wimbledon in July were wrong
‘At Wimbledon, I personally don’t think it was a mental issue. The past week I’ve shown a lot of mental resilience and toughness to face a lot of adversity.
‘To go out on Arthur Ashe Stadium for the first time I was nervous for sure. You could tell in the games where I went an early break down. It took time to adjust. Staying calm and in the moment has helped me through. I can’t believe I’m the winner now but you need a lot of mental strength to do it. I think that says something in itself.’
As has become very apparent, she possesses an extraordinary ability to keep her head when trying to execute complex skills under steamhammer pressure. She knows where she gets that from.
‘There were definitely some high-pressure situations. The only pressure I was feeling was a pressure to carry out the plans I had in my mind.
Raducanu rewrote the records, coming through qualifying to win the prestigious tournament
‘My Mum is definitely a very strong person and I’m very inspired by her. I think it’s something I’ve always had from a young age. It’s been a part of my upbringing, thanks to my parents. It has helped throughout my whole life. Especially on Ashe Stadium, you need every ounce of help and experience that you can get.’
It takes strength to compartmentalise the way she did over the past three weeks. That might be the most valuable asset she has when facing the coming tsunami of attention that awaits.
Another thing she was blissfully unaware of was the fact that she was playing for a winner’s purse of over £1.8million, at a time when her friends are taking out their first student loans as they head off to university.
The only occasion she was aware of the cash at stake was when he mislaid one of her most treasured possessions just before her opening qualifying match here.
‘I had no idea of the prize money,’ she said. ‘Before my first-round qualifying round, I lost my AirPods three minutes before I was called to court. I was running around looking for them. I have been telling myself before each match, ‘If you win, you can buy yourself another pair of AirPods’. That has been the running joke between us.
‘I just completely switched off from everything, gave my phone away. I haven’t had a chance to catch up. I haven’t checked my phone yet, I’ve got no idea what’s going on. Never in my life I thought Her Majesty would watch one of my matches. It’s so special, I can’t believe that it’s happening.
‘I don’t know how it’s going to be when I get home, but I’m really excited to see my family and friends. Whatever happens, I’m enjoying everything and taking it all in.’
The policy of living a hermit-like existence here was a deliberate one, although she was looking forward to breaking out. She was planning to take yesterday off completely and there would not be a hangover to contend with.
The Brit thanked Grand Slam winner Virginia Wade (l) for coming to support her in every round
‘I’m not really a drinker. I don’t like it, I’ll stick to chocolate and good food,’ she said. ‘In three weeks I haven’t seen one sight — I’ve just been hiding in my room with Uber Eats,’ she said.
‘But I want to check Wall Street out, the Twin Towers memorial. It’s the 9/11 anniversary this weekend, an incredibly sad day, but everyone has been so strong. We have a lot of good recommendations for food spots. I’m going to try to hit up as many as I can in one day.’
There is also likely to be an obligatory round of US TV chat shows as her celebrity goes coast to coast.
She took time to consider her recent past and future and pointed out that the pandemic may have contributed to her pulling off this astonishing feat. It was the hiatus caused by the virus, and the decision to complete her A-levels, which saw her play so little and come this summer like a bolt from the blue.
‘In that time I definitely wanted to compete, to get out there. But the circumstances didn’t allow it – there was nothing in the UK in terms of ranking events,’ she added.
‘That was probably the biggest thing. After so long not competing at all, I have been so hungry and excited to perform every time, holding on to every match like it could be my last. I hadn’t played for 16 months. That has definitely helped to drive my motivation.’
Raducanu watched Sir Andy Murray win Sports Personality of the Year – and she could be next
The likelihood is that her next tournament will be the postponed high-level event that takes place next month at Indian Wells in the Californian desert, a lavish event owned by Oracle billionaire Larry Ellison.
She will, perhaps for the last time, require a wildcard to enter as her old ranking of 150 was not high enough when entries closed.
This again represents an abrupt shift. ‘Before Wimbledon, I was planning on playing some $25k events in Lisbon, and before here, I was thinking of playing a $125k Challenger somewhere in the States afterwards. But I’m trying not to think about that right now,’ Raducanu explained.
The first time she plays in the UK is likely to be an exhibition at the Royal Albert Hall in late November. Then might come Sports Personality of the Year.
‘I watched when Andy (Murray) and Lewis Hamilton won, and when Dina Asher-Smith was nominated — she went to my school. The school has churned out a lot of good athletes, they gave me a lot of flexibility, I don’t think I’d be here if they hadn’t been so supportive,’ she went on.
This has been another notable feature of Raducanu in the past fortnight — her poise and manners. How quick she has been to express gratitude, from thanking those back home to Virginia Wade for turning up each round to support.
Her values will be tested at times in the coming years — tennis does that to young people. But that can wait. Better now to reflect on three weeks that were spontaneous, innocent and utterly glorious.
Raducanu’s monumental US Open final v Fernandez: game-by-game
SET ONE – *Raducanu 1-0 Fernandez: A confident start by both players, though a forehand winner followed by a backhand cross-court from Raducanu sees the Brit hold serve in the opening game.
Raducanu 2-0 Fernandez*: Some crucial unforced errors, including a double fault, put Fernandez down 0-40. Despite failing to convert six break points, Raducanu eventually gets the break when a Fernandez forehand finds the net.
*Raducanu 2–1 Fernandez: An untimely double fault from Raducanu provides Fernandez with a break point opportunity and the Canadian immediately gets the final back on serve when Raducanu nets with a backhand.
Raducanu 2-2 Fernandez*: Fernandez mixes up her shot selection with a wonderfully executed drop shot to lead 40-0 before taking the game with a huge serve. The momentum is with Fernandez and the crowd are right behind the 19-year-old.
*Raducanu 3-2 Fernandez: Raducanu is in a perilous position after a Fernandez forehand winner and a double fault puts her down 0-30, but the Brit steadies herself and reels off four consecutive points to hold serve.
Raducanu 3-3 Fernandez*: Despite some punishing forehands from Raducanu off the Fernandez second serve, the Canadian levels after going down 15-30 when a fortunate net cord helps the ball trickle over the net.
*Raducanu 4-3 Fernandez: Raducanu’s reluctance to execute an overhead sees her hit a volley long and trail 15-30, though the Brit controls the next three points with her forehand and holds from a tricky spot once again.
Raducanu 4–4 Fernandez*: This time it’s Fernandez who withstands the pressure on her serve. After being taken to deuce, the Canadian hits a forehand winner before an unreturned serve out wide puts her level.
*Raducanu 5-4 Fernandez: More dominance off the forehand side from Raducanu leads to an error-strewn game from Fernandez, who sprays two shots well beyond the baseline and sets up a comfortable hold for the Brit.
Raducanu 6-4 Fernandez*: Raducanu earns herself two set points with a sublime backhand return. The Canadian survives those and then another, but she can’t save the fourth as the Brit smashes a forehand down the line to take the opening set.
SET TWO – *Raducanu 1-0 Fernandez: Raducanu refuses to let the short break halt her momentum. A dominant serving display from the 18-year-old hands her an early lead in the second set.
Raducanu 1-1 Fernandez*: A hat-trick of unforced errors from Fernandez presents Raducanu with three break points, but the Canadian rises to the challenge and battles back to hold with some excellent serving. A huge statement.
*Raducanu 1-2 Fernandez: Despite fending off two break points, Raducanu’s resistance is broken when she nets a backhand down the line after a brilliant Fernandez return. The Brit is down a break for the first time in the final.
Raducanu 2-2 Fernandez*: Raducanu responds brilliantly and breaks back with her trademark cross-court backhand. The Brit had set up the break point with an impressive defensive lob and then a stunning drive volley.
*Raducanu 3-2 Fernandez: Raducanu shows nerves of steel as Fernandez raises her level, holding serve to retake the lead in the set. The Brit seals the game in style with two unreturned serves, one out wide and one down the middle.
Raducanu 4-2 Fernandez*: Sensational from Raducanu. The Brit sets up break point and looks all but beaten as Fernandez races to the net with the court at her mercy, but the Brit guesses correctly and executes a perfect passing shot.
*Raducanu 5-2 Fernandez: The passing shot in the previous game has rattled Fernandez. She fails to bounce back and produces a series of unforced errors to hand Raducanu an easy hold at a critical moment. Emma is one game away.
Raducanu 5-3 Fernandez*: Fernandez shows her fighting spirit to hold serve after saving two championship points with gutsy tennis. Raducanu must put the missed chances behind her as she will now be forced to serve for the title.
*Raducanu 6-3 Fernandez: Raducanu saves two break points either side of an enforced medical timeout after cutting her leg. She seals the match with an ace out wide on her third championship point. The qualifier has done it.
*INDICATES WHO IS SERVING