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MIKE DICKSON: Emma Raducanu is one step away from a glorious ending to her fairytale in New York

From the rooftop terrace of Emma Raducanu’s Fifth Avenue hotel you can see for miles across the canyons of Manhattan. 

One more win on Saturday evening and, wherever she finds herself, the 18-year-old from Kent really will be the queen of all she surveys. 

Nobody has ever taken the lift from tennis’s basement to the penthouse suite as quickly as Raducanu, who entered Wimbledon ranked 338 in the world shortly after taking her A-levels. 

If Emma Raducanu (pictured) can beat Leylah Fernandez she will join the legends of the game as a US Open champion

Raducanu (pictured) and Fernandez's contest is the first teenage female Grand Slam final since 1999

Canadian Fernandez is 19 years old and ranked 73rd in the world

Raducanu (left) and Fernandez’s (right) contest is the first teenage female Grand Slam final since 1999

Less than three months later, with her schoolfriends about to embark on freshers’ week at university, she is about to sit her finals. If she can beat 19-year-old Leylah Fernandez, another shooting star, she will join the legends of the game who are US Open champions.

She would deservedly carve herself a unique place in British sporting history. Given how well her game translates to grass, Wimbledon’s Henman Hill might even morph into Raducanu Ridge over the next 10 years.

This will be the biggest final that Fernandez has played in, although she did win a main WTA Tour event in Mexico in March.

In the early hours of Friday morning Raducanu was seated inside the Arthur Ashe Stadium, being asked what her biggest title has been to date. It was a $25,000 ranking tournament in the Indian city of Pune, in late 2019. Her ascent has been that dramatic.

She reached the final of a slightly bigger event in Chicago the weekend before arriving in New York. She was tired and, according to those close to her camp, there was the genuine fear that the three rounds of qualifying – a uniquely taxing event in its own way – might be too much.

Raducanu (with Andy Murray two years ago) can become Great Britain's next tennis superstar

Raducanu (with Andy Murray two years ago) can become Great Britain’s next tennis superstar 

Raducanu will never have it like this again - never again will she be able to walk unrecognised

Raducanu will never have it like this again – never again will she be able to walk unrecognised 

Wimbledon’s Henman Hill might even morph into Raducanu Ridge over the next 10 years

Wimbledon’s Henman Hill might even morph into Raducanu Ridge over the next 10 years

Nine wins later, with not so much as a set conceded, she is the first player to come through the preliminaries to make a Grand Slam final.

Raducanu must seize the day, because it will never be like this again for her. Never again will she walk unrecognised around the streets of a New York which, at present, has a slightly hollowed out feel to it amid the pandemic. Never again will there be a small handful of media who are here to chart her progress.

She has been at the heart of a tiny team, supported by one-time childhood mentor Andrew Richardson and physio Will Herbert. That this is the genial giant Richardson’s first serious experience of big-time coaching only adds to the fairytale feel.

The stars have aligned and, the way the draw has fallen, Raducanu might win the US Open without facing a player ranked in the top 10.

This is, however, less significant than it sounds. Not just because her technical level of play and extraordinary composure have been of someone who already belongs in the very highest company. The fact is that she is joining the top table at a time when the hierarchy of women’s tennis is in a state of unprecedented flux.

Serena and Venus Williams look nearly finished. Naomi Osaka is struggling. Of the two most recent Wimbledon champions, Ash Barty is weary after nearly six months on the road and Simona Halep on the way back from injury.

Raducanu and Fernandez have, brilliantly and courageously, taken full advantage.

Maria Sakkari was the former’s victim in the semi-final, dismissed 6-1, 6-4 in almost nonchalant fashion. Raducanu was, once again, jaw-droppingly good.

Defeated semi-finalist Maria Sakkari (right) said Raducanu 'plays fearlessly' and 'goes for it'

Defeated semi-finalist Maria Sakkari (right) said Raducanu ‘plays fearlessly’ and ‘goes for it’

Raducanu might win the US Open this weekend without facing a player ranked in the top 10

Raducanu might win the US Open this weekend without facing a player ranked in the top 10

Sakkari admitted that a contributory factor was how she had crumbled when faced with the shock of the new. She thought Olympic champion Belinda Bencic in the previous round had done the same.

‘Emma plays fearlessly. She absolutely goes for it, does the right thing actually,’ said the Greek. ‘She has nothing to lose, she’s enjoying herself.

‘But we were all absent from the court these days playing against her. I saw Belinda yesterday, I think she would agree with me that we did not bring our best performance.’

This syndrome of older players with more to lose succumbing to feistier young opponents will not be applicable tonight.

Nor is the factor of either feeling the one-sided support of a New York crowd always inclined to roar on a youthful and less fancied challenger.

Fernandez has played with a similar lack of inhibition these past two weeks. She is a free-spirited southpaw with a particularly lethal backhand.

Raducanu's backhand down the line is executed with a missile guidance system that brings to mind Novak Djokovic

Raducanu’s backhand down the line is executed with a missile guidance system that brings to mind Novak Djokovic

Already she has seen off defending champion Osaka, former Wimbledon victor Angelique Kerber, plus the No 2 and No 5 seed. That is a mighty impressive body of work for one fortnight.

Now the Canadian is reunited with someone she first met at Florida’s Under 12 Orange Bowl tournament and lost to at junior Wimbledon three years ago.

They had a few things in common. Both were born in Canada to parents who had emigrated, although one moved on to settle in London at the age of two. Fernandez’s mother is originally from the Philippines, whereas Raducanu’s mother has Chinese roots.

‘Whenever we saw each other at tournaments we would be friendly and say hello,’ said the British player. ‘Very nice girl. We get on well. But, no, we don’t really stay in contact.’

It could yet become a great rivalry, although it is difficult to see it being anything other than cordial. One long-serving official working behind the scenes remarked on just how pleasant Raducanu has been to deal with over the past fortnight. Not every player gets a report card like that during the stresses of a Grand Slam.

One long-serving official has remarked on just how pleasant Raducanu has been to deal with

One long-serving official has remarked on just how pleasant Raducanu has been to deal with 

This match may come down to temperament but if it is a question of solid technique then Raducanu has the more clinical. Her backhand down the line, for example, is executed with a missile guidance system that brings to mind Novak Djokovic.

It is also telling that, even though the Kent teenager has played three more matches, her ease of passage means that she has spent 71 minutes less time on court than her opponent. It adds to the feeling that her time is now.

The first Grand Slam final between two teenagers in 22 years ought to be a joyful occasion on what is otherwise a sombre day in this city.

This will be the 20th anniversary of the shattering events which occurred on September 11. An incidental thought is that neither of these two players were alive at the time. 

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