NEW YORK — On Monday afternoon, Arthur Ashe Stadium witnessed a quiet celebration of two of Britain’s finest women tennis players. One is an 18-year-old phenomenon, who is keeping both the UK — and the world — spellbound with her forehand rippers. The other is a 76-year-old legend and former US Open champion, who watched the newcomer take the mantle for their country.
Emma Raducanu bludgeoned forehand winners against American Shelby Rogers, while Virginia Wade, the last British woman to win a major — the Wimbledon title in 1977 — cheered her on.
After her dominating 6-2 6-1 win against Rogers, a star-struck Raducanu waved at Wade during the on-court interview and said, “You’re an absolute legend, so I’m so honored to have had you here.” And right after the interview, she ran up to the Presidential Suite to thank Wade for coming, before the news conferences engulfed her.
“She is going to win Grand Slams, for sure,” Wade said to ESPN after the match.
Of all three 18-year-olds — Leylah Fernandez turned 19 Monday — who have made a huge splash at this year’s US Open, Raducanu has had the most straight-forward path once she got to the main draw — losing just 15 games in the entire tournament. But unlike Fernandez and Carlos Alcaraz, she also had to play three qualifiers to make the main draw. But ever since she did, she’s been unrattled, never coming close to losing a set, let alone a match. She started the year ranked No. 338 in the world. Now, she’s projected to hit No. 100.
Her biggest challenge is likely going to be Wednesday’s quarterfinal opponent — Belinda Bencic — who won the Olympic gold medal and has won 13 of her past 14 matches going back to the start of her title run at the Olympics.
“Personally, I am surprised that I’m here,” Raducanu said at the news conference after the match. “I didn’t expect — I knew I was doing a lot of great work that would pay off someday, but you never know when.”
Raducanu, who was born in Canada to a Romanian father and Chinese mother and moved to London when she was 2, credits her parents for instilling a strong work ethic in her.
“They come from very hard-working countries,” she said during Wimbledon this year.
Raducanu, who started playing tennis when she was 5, picked two athletes from her parents’ countries — Romania’s Simona Halep and China’s Li Na — as her idols. She wanted to move like Halep and modeled her aggressive strokes after Na.
“[Na] went for everything and also she was very athletic in a more aggressive way,” Raducanu said to the Lawn Tennis Association in July 2020. “I loved her mentality, she never complained. That’s something I aspire to be like.”
In 2018, Raducanu had a breakthrough season on the junior circuit, hitting a career-high ranking of No. 20. She made the quarterfinals at both Wimbledon Juniors and the US Open Juniors.
A month before she made her WTA Tour main draw debut in June 2021, she wrapped up her A-level exams (equivalent of AP exams in the U.S.) — which she aced — focused on her education. Suddenly, she made the main draw at Wimbledon and soon became the youngest British woman in the Open era to make the Round of 16 there, shocking 2019 French Open finalist Marketa Vondrousova in the second round. She was unstoppable until the fourth round, when she had to retire after experiencing a panic attack in the second set against Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic.
After regrouping, she landed in New York two weeks before most of her opponents, going from playing on empty side courts during the qualifying matches to her first singles match in Arthur Ashe Stadium on Monday. And with each match, she looked more in control and more confident. She had to fight off nerves in the first set of her match against Rogers, but once she did, she was relentless, coming back from 0-2 down in the first set to win 11 straight games.
“You don’t know enough to get it complicated in your head — you’re there for the experience and you try and stay in your lane, and keep all the same routines you’ve been doing,” said ESPN analyst Pam Shriver, who reached the 1978 US Open final as a 16-year-old amateur, drawing from her own experience.
Raducanu may be just 18, but her game is big, Shriver said.
“At the court side, I was really surprised at the pop on her serve — you can really see and feel the pace of it and I was like, ‘Wow, 111 [mph] and she is 18 and she doesn’t look like she can serve 111 [mph],'” Shriver said.
At her age, she is already a well-rounded player, Wade added.
“She’s really good in all departments. She serves great, her ground strokes are fantastic, her concentration is good, physically she is strong — she really has it all,” Wade told ESPN after the match.
What struck Shriver about Raducanu is her composure, both on and off the court, during this tournament.
“She has a grounded presence and picks up on little things very quickly,” Shriver said.
Even though Raducanu played the American fan-favorite Rogers on Arthur Ashe, she has yet to have a big moment like Fernandez or Alcaraz did when they beat Naomi Osaka and Stefanos Tsitsipas, respectively, this week. The draw has favored her — she was supposed to play world No. 13 Jennifer Brady in the first round, before Brady pulled out of the tournament. She ended up playing unseeded Stefanie Voegele from Switzerland. And, in the fourth round, she took on Rogers, who didn’t have much in the tank after her two-hour battle — and victory — against No. 1 Ash Barty on Saturday and her doubles loss on Sunday.
Shriver said it’s very possible that Raducanu, with her momentum, could win Wednesday’s match against Bencic.
“On paper, you’d think Bencic, with the gold medal, would start [as the] favorite, but I learned when I got momentum going in ’78 that once you get on the roll here and you’re a teenager and you just soak it up, it’s just easy to have the momentum keep you going,” she said.
Raducanu said she felt confident with her serve and her overall game going into the quarterfinals, but it’s going to be an “extremely difficult match.”
“If I’m going to have a chance, I’m going to have to play some really good tennis,” she said.
Before the start of this year’s US Open, one of the biggest storylines was the big stars — Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams — the tournament is missing. But, in just a week, the script has been rewritten: It’s all about the next generation of tennis stars who have shocked the world with their consistency and composure.
Raducanu said that watching the other two 18-year-olds made her want to push herself, so she could “join them.”
“That’s the next generation of our sport,” Rogers said after her loss to Raducanu, “and it’s in good hands.”
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