Emma Raducanu wore the biggest grin as she hugged the US Open trophy after completing her New York fairy tale and one of the most astonishing feats in sport with victory over Leylah Fernandez.
Playing in just her second grand slam tournament, the 18-year-old from Kent won all 20 sets she played in qualifying and the main draw to become the first British woman to win a grand slam singles title since Virginia Wade lifted the Wimbledon trophy in 1977.
Raducanu was sitting her A-levels little more than three months ago having not played a competitive match for more than a year but she has burst onto the big stage like no-one before her.
EMMA RADUCANU IS THE US OPEN CHAMPION pic.twitter.com/chyac4ZP7F
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 11, 2021
Fernandez is only two months older having celebrated her 19th birthday earlier this week but the Canadian, who had claimed a host of big scalps, including defending champion Naomi Osaka, had no answer to the brilliance of Raducanu, who claimed a 6-4 6-3 victory in an hour and 51 minutes.
Her achievement is unprecedented. No qualifier had ever reached a slam final before, while she is the first woman ever to win a title in as few as two tournaments, and the youngest since Maria Sharapova triumphed at Wimbledon in 2004.
While Raducanu’s Wimbledon breakthrough showed she could potentially be a grand slam winner in the future, no-one, least of all the teenager herself, expected it to come so soon.
Speaking to Amazon Prime Video, Raducanu said: “I’m still just so shocked, still in the moment. I can’t believe I came through that last service game. It honestly means absolutely everything to hold this trophy. I just don’t want to let go.
“Yesterday and this morning there were a few weird feelings that I couldn’t put my finger on, I didn’t know what it was, but I think that’s just normal and when I came out on court I felt completely at home, business as usual, I was just focusing one point at a time.
“I think the level was extremely high, both of us were playing unbelievable tennis. I had to fight really hard to cling onto that first set and then just keep my nose in front in the second.”
The evening began with a ceremony to remember the victims of the September 11 attacks 20 years ago – before both finalists were born.
The reception the young women received when they walked out onto Arthur Ashe indicated that Fernandez, who lives in Florida, would receive the most support, her giant-killing run having captured the hearts of the New York crowd.
Raducanu had not been troubled enough to really need to draw on the crowd, with her closest set coming in the second round of qualifying, when she was just another lower-ranked hopeful trying to reach the main draw.
She was already the first player ever to play 10 singles matches at the same slam, and she quickly shut down the suggestion there might be any pressure on her going into the final.
The smile says it all.
— LTA (@the_LTA) September 11, 2021
It certainly did not appear that way as she swung freely through the first game, clinching it with a cross-court backhand struck so true that Fernandez did not move.
This was a very different scenario for the Canadian, who had been the big underdog in her previous four matches but here found herself as the higher ranked and more experienced player.
The contest quickly became an almighty battle, Raducanu breaking for 2-0 on her sixth chance only for Fernandez to take her fourth opportunity to hit straight back.
It was a showcase of all the skills, mental resilience and athleticism that had seen the two women conquer all before them.
Fernandez had shaken off her early nerves and the match was everything that had been anticipated on such an exciting night for the future of the women’s game.
Every rally was hard fought, neither woman shirking an opportunity to strike the first blow but reading each other in a way none of the previous opponents had managed.
The Raducanu return has been arguably the shot of the tournament and two sizzlers brought up two set points in the 10th game.
Fernandez saved both, and a third that followed, but on the fourth Raducanu drilled a forehand down the line before raising her arms and letting out a huge ‘Come on’.
Totally Rad 🤙
— wta (@WTA) September 11, 2021
Raducanu has been more contained emotionally than her opponent throughout the fortnight but this was the most pressure she had been under and she knew what a huge moment it was in the match.
Fernandez knew, too, and Raducanu had three chances to break for 2-0 in the second but the Canadian dug in brilliantly to hold and then surged ahead with a break in another long game.
But back came Raducanu with more superb returning and a run of four games in a row took her to the brink of victory.
— Amazon Prime Video Sport (@primevideosport) September 11, 2021
She held two match points at 5-2 but Fernandez was not finished, saving both and then forcing a break point as Raducanu attempted to serve it out.
To add to the tension, the British player was forced to take an injury timeout after grazing her leg sliding to the ball, much to the annoyance of Fernandez.
Raducanu saved the break point, and another, before bringing up her third match point. And this time she took it – with an ace.
Watching from the stands was Wade, also the last British woman to triumph in New York in 1968, and she applauded Raducanu with a smile to match the teenager’s.
“It means so much to have Virginia here and also Tim (Henman),” said Raducanu before receiving the trophy from Billie Jean King.
“Just to have such British legends and icons for me to follow in their footsteps, it definitely helps and gave me the belief that I could actually do it.”
Fernandez fought back tears on the podium but could reflect on a superb tournament.
She said: “It’s incredible. I honestly have no idea what to say. Today’s going to be hard to recuperate but Emma played amazing so I congratulate Emma and your team.
“I’m very proud of myself and the way I played these last two weeks and especially having the crowd. Thank you so much New York.”