Emma Raducanu storms into US Open quarterfinals
By Ben Rothenberg
The most inexperienced players also looked the most comfortable in the first week of the U.S. Open in New York.
Starting in the qualifying draw, Emma Raducanu of Britain has won all seven of her matches in straight sets, without needing a tiebreaker in any of them. Her most recent wins have been her most emphatic. She beat 41st-ranked Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain, 6-0, 6-1 on Saturday to reach the round of 16. On Monday, Raducanu routed the 43rd-ranked American Shelby Rogers, 6-2, 6-1.
Raducanu was the third 18-year-old to reach the quarterfinals of this year’s U.S. Open, joining Leylah Fernández and Carlos Alcaraz. Raducanu will face recent Olympic gold medalist Belinda Bencic today for a spot in the semifinals.
“To have so many young players coming through is just really great for the game because it just shows how strong this next generation is,” Raducanu said. “Having so many young players and 18-year-olds, I think we all inspire each other to play better. Because like for me today, I wanted to join them in the second week as well, so that was an extra bit of motivation.”
Though Raducanu won her early matches away from the biggest courts where Fernández and Alcaraz broke through, she has proved no less popular in Queens. After her news conference Saturday, she spent more than an hour doing interviews, signing autographs and taking selfies. On Monday, after her first match in Arthur Ashe Stadium, she knelt on the court and took selfies with fans.
Raducanu, who was born in Toronto to a Romanian father and Chinese mother, now represents Britain. She was ranked outside the top 300 when she made a surprise run to the fourth round of Wimbledon as a wild card in her Grand Slam debut, becoming a national celebrity in the process. That tournament ended on a down note, however, when she was forced to abandon her fourth-round match after she had trouble breathing.
“Having played like four, five weeks on the tour now, I think that with each week I’m getting more and more accustomed to the physical demands of playing at this level,” Raducanu said. “Yeah, I think I’m improving.”
While Raducanu remained the most buzzed about player after Wimbledon, lining up new endorsements in the process, she continued to improve away from the spotlight. After Wimbledon she played as much as she could, winding her way from San Jose, California, to Landisville, Pennsylvania, to Chicago before arriving in New York for her first qualifying match.
Less than two months after Wimbledon, Raducanu is set to break well into the top 100, and is getting better by the round. Her win over Sorribes Tormo, who plays a grueling brand of tennis and who knocked top-ranked Ashleigh Barty out of the Tokyo Olympics, was poised, precise and patient. Though Raducanu prefers playing first-strike tennis, she held her own in long exchanges with Sorribes Tormo, who pushed the average rally length to over six shots. Her win over Rogers was dominant and economical.
Against Rogers, who had upset Barty in the third round, Raducanu thrived in shorter exchanges, with rallies averaging only 3.08 shots. Despite different opponents, the common denominator has been Raducanu’s dominance — the longest of her wins in the main draw took only an hour and 22 minutes.
“I’m extremely fresh; I haven’t really played on tour for the whole entire year,” Raducanu said Saturday. “This whole experience is just so new to me; I think that’s the enjoyment factor that I’m getting.”
“Honestly, I think with the amount of matches I have played and the experience that I have accumulated in the last four, five weeks, my game is just getting better with each match,” Raducanu said.
During the coronavirus pandemic, Raducanu trained at the Lawn Tennis Association’s National Tennis Center in London, working with coach Mark Petchey after Philippe Dehaes was unable to come to England because of travel restrictions. Petchey picked up where Dehaes left off in reconstructing Raducanu’s forehand, changing her grip and adding more topspin to the shot. He also tested racket models with her, ultimately choosing a longer Wilson racket to give her shots more pop. While her game needed work, Petchey was impressed by her attitude and commitment, which he equated with that of another player he has worked with: Andy Murray.
“Her attitude toward training and practice was, without doubt, equally good as, say, Andy’s,” Petchey said. “I did not have one session with her in that period where it was anything less than everything she had.”
Petchey, who provided remote television analysis for Amazon Prime during last year’s U.S. Open, said his enthusiasm for Raducanu made it easy to return to the practice court with her hours after pulling overnight shifts in the broadcast booth.
“Honestly, I wouldn’t have done those mornings if I hadn’t been so inspired by her attitude,” he said. “It won me over from Day 1.”
After working with Petchey, Raducanu worked with Nigel Sears during the grass-court season. She is now coached by a third English coach, Andrew Richardson.
A rare top prospect who completed her studies at a conventional high school rather than attending a tennis academy, Raducanu was “very bright and very analytical with how she sees the game,” said Petchey, who called her a “helicopter player” for her ability to see it as if watching from above.
“If you don’t have the tools, that doesn’t help you that much because you can’t put the ball in the right place,” Petchey said of her strategic acumen. “But Emma has got the tools, and she’s able to pick your weakness and get the ball through the court quick enough to make an impact.”
He added: “At this developmental stage of a player’s career, it’s hard to be playing with that kind of clarity. That’s what I’ve seen over the summer: She’s been clinical with her strategy, and executed it perfectly. That’s really impressive for an 18-year-old.”
Petchey said he believed Raducanu had reached “50, 60% of her physical capabilities,” which makes her potential even greater.
“There are things she’ll be doing so much better a year from now,” he said. “That’s probably the most exciting part of it: She’s already an incredible player, and she’s got a lot of ceiling room to go. She’s going to be great for the WTA. She’s going to be awesome.”