Emma Raducanu enjoying the moment before US Open quarter-final | Tumaini Carayol

The 18-year-old is ‘super-appreciative’ as she prepares to face Belinda Bencic in the US Open quarter-finals

One of the greatest cramming sessions of the year continues. Emma Raducanu began her full-time senior career before Wimbledon with no experience at the very top level of professional tennis, but with every match she plays across this delirious summer, she is learning new information and improving each time. Now 26 matches later, she is a US Open quarter-finalist. She has already grown as much in 10 weeks as some players do in years, and she only wants more.

The breakout performances from other teens in New York offer a helpful reference point for Raducanu’s inexperience and why the most remarkable part of her story is not that she is just 18 and recently received her A-levels. Leylah Fernandez, who turned 19 on Monday, is only two months older than Raducanu, and reached the semi-finals on Tuesday, made her tour-level debut in 2018 and her steady growth has been easy to follow across the 34 tour-level tournaments she has played since. Raducanu has played four: Nottingham, Wimbledon, San Diego and the US Open.

“I think everyone is on their own trajectory,” said Raducanu when asked about Fernandez. “Personally I am surprised that I’m here. I knew I was doing a lot of great work that would pay off someday, but you never know when. I’m super-appreciative of the moment. [Being] here in the US Open, quarter-finals, after not playing for 18 months, is absolutely just incredible.”

As the focus shifts to Raducanu’s quarter-final against Belinda Bencic, the Olympic champion and 11th seed, there are more new experiences to come. Although filled with savvy and experienced top-50 players that she has comprehensively destroyed, Raducanu has had a good draw. Bencic will mark her first ever top-30 opponent, allowing her to finally test her weapons against a top player.

A US Open quarter-finalist aged 17 in 2014, Bencic thrives in New York, where she has reached all three of her grand slam quarter-finals. The pair share at least some similar strengths and this match will be won by whoever can successfully take control of the baseline. Raducanu has demonstrated her ability to take the ball early, use the opponent’s pace and redirect off both wings, but few players do all of those things as well as Bencic. Armed with peerless hand-eye coordination, the Swiss makes up for her lack of raw power by rushing and robbing time from her opponents.

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Throughout her summer run, Raducanu’s frontrunning skills have been astonishing. She has conceded just 15 games en route to the quarter-final in New York, fewer than any player there since Serena Williams conceded 13 in 2013. In her last two matches, both against top-50 players, she has embarked on runs of 11 straight games.

Raducanu also waltzed into the second week at Wimbledon without dropping a set, meaning she has played just three three-set matches this summer, winning two, and none against top-100 opposition or at tour level. If this match is tighter than previous contests, as is likely, Raducanu’s mental fortitude in tight matches will be tested. Few players are as tough as Bencic is right now: she won Olympic gold by clinching four consecutive three-set matches and and edged out Iga Swiatek 14-12 in a 26-point first-set tie-break on Monday.

As she braces for her next learning experience, what is certain is that Raducanu is exactly where she should be. After many years of her talent being an open secret in British tennis circles, the tennis world is paying attention: “It’s not hype.” said Martina Navratilova. “It’s real. She is a superstar in the making. You don’t want to put too much pressure on her but she’s got it. You saw it the first time you saw Nadal. You saw it the first time you saw Djokovic. You saw it with [Carlos] Alcaraz, the new star. It’s just there.”


Tumaini Carayol

The GuardianTramp

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