Britain’s Emma Raducanu has made history by becoming the first qualifier to win a major tennis title, beating Canada’s Leylah Fernandez in the US Open final at Flushing Meadows, 6-4, 6-3.
Raducanu won three straight matches to get through qualifying, then seven more on the way to securing her first major title without dropping a single set
The 18-year-old Brit is the first woman to win the US Open without dropping a set since Serena Williams in 2014, winning 20 straight sets.
Incredibly, it’s just her fourth Tour-level event.
In a gruelling 1 hour 51 minutes match that had subtle shifts in momentum throughout, Raducanu held her nerve when it counted, serving out a marathon final game with an ace, before sinking to the court in celebration.
“I knew I would have to dig deep,” Raducanu, who was playing in just her second major, said after the match.
“The level was extremely high and I hope we play each other in many more tournaments and hopefully finals.
“Leylah is always going to play great tennis and fight, that is why she is in the final.”
Fight, Fernandez did — no more so than in the final game of the match, when she earned two break-back points, roared on by a supportive crowd.
Having already fought back against three top-five ranked players in the previous week, including Naomi Osaka, Elina Svitolina and Aryna Sabalenka, Fernandez fed off the energy of the crowd to force the break point.
However, her momentum was stalled by a medical timeout taken to deal with a cut on Raducanu’s knee, suffered as she slid for the ball.
With blood trickling down Raducanu’s shin, the umpire had no choice but to stop the game, much to the chagrin of Fernandez, who argued with the umpire while Raducanu was being strapped up.
“I fell somehow and thought that would throw me off balance,” the Brit said. “I was praying not for a double fault.”
She went better than that, recovering her focus to save the break point, then serve out the match.
In the first all-teenage grand slam final since 1999 — Fernandez turned 19 on Monday — both women ignored the enormity of the occasion by continuing to play the free-flowing games that got them to their first grand slam final.
That meant going for winners at the cost of giving up unforced errors: 22 winners and 25 unforced errors for Raducanu, 18 winners and 26 unforced errors for Fernandez.
However, that freedom of play resulted in a thrilling encounter, including a gruelling 58-minute first set that featured three breaks of serve.
Fernandez struggled with her first serve throughout, getting just 50 per cent of her first serves in during the first set and winning just 43 per cent of points off her second.
She improved in the second set, particularly when under pressure to save the match, but another comeback was not on the cards this time around.
“I hope to be back here in the finals, and this time with a trophy, the right one,” she said.
Visibly upset, she added that she was proud of what she had achieved over the course of the week, before paying tribute to the victims of the September 11 attacks.
“I know on this day it was especially hard for New York and everyone around the US,” Fernandez said, her voice cracking.
“I hope I can be as strong and resilient as New York has been the last 20 years.”
Fernandez might want to take her cue from Raducanu.
At Wimbledon, she had to withdraw from her last-16 match against Australian Ajla Tomljanovic with breathing difficulties, having suffered a panic attack.
That led to some to question her heart and ability to compete at the top level.
She answered those questions and more, becoming the first British woman to win a grand slam title since Virginia Wade won Wimbledon in 1977.
“It shows the future of women’s tennis and depth of the game is so great,” Raducanu said.
“Every player in the draw has a shot at winning any tournament, I hope the next generation can follow in the steps of some of the legends.”
Wade was in the 23,000-strong crowd on Arthur Ashe, and so too was her idol Tim Henman.
“It means so much to have Virginia Wade here and also Tim [Henman] — British icons,” she said.
“For me to follow in their footsteps … it gave me the belief I could do it.”
After a record-breaking performance in New York, Raducanu is not so much following in their footsteps as treading her own path.