The inside story of Emma Raducanu’s fairytale of New York… an exclusive extract from a new book by Sportsmail’s MIKE DICKSON describes how the 19-year-old sensation shocked the world last year in the first all-teenage US Open final since 1999
- The players entered the arena, with Leylah Fernandez getting the louder roar
- Atmosphere for the first all-teenage final since 1999 was little short of febrile
- From the outset it was clear neither player was going to be cowed by occasion
- A forehand winner down the line saw Emma Raducanu claim the first set 6–4
- And with an ace at 5-3 in the second, the miracle of New York was complete
The sun rose over Manhattan on September 11, 2021 and, just like the corresponding day 20 years previously, there was barely a cloud in the sky.
Of course this was no ordinary morning in New York, and on this date it never will be again. Not after the attacks on the Twin Towers of 2001 which have shaped the modern history of this city.
Around Midtown there were banners hung from lamp-posts commemorating what happened, and on the streets the passers-by were mainly either in uniform or in suits, going to and from events to mark the occasion.
Sportsmail delivers the inside story of Emma Raducanu’s US Open fairytale in New York
The 19-year-old sensation shocked the world last year in the first all-teenage final since 1999
Tennis seems an even more trivial pursuit than usual in this context but, within the parish of that sport, big things were happening later in the day. They would involve two young women who were not even born when the 2001 atrocity took place.
When the hour came ahead of the 4pm start, the Arthur Ashe Stadium was already nearly full.
The pageantry of American sports leans heavily towards the military, and at Flushing Meadows the national anthem is sung and soldiers unfurl a giant Stars and Stripes flag across the court. The players entered the arena, with Leylah Fernandez getting the slightly louder roar.
The atmosphere for the first all-teenage final since 1999, when Serena Williams had defeated Martina Hingis, was little short of febrile. After so much struggle and darkness around tennis in the previous 18 months, there was a sense that this was the sport breaking back into the light.
From the outset it was clear that neither player was going to be cowed by the scale of the occasion and the biggest crowd in tennis, although it was Emma Raducanu who started the more assured.
A forehand winner down the line saw the British teenager claim the opening set 6–4
In the moment, Raducanu whirled her arms around to turn up the volume in the vast stadium
And at 5–4 it was the Brit who struck the first decisive blow. She earned herself three set points, only for all to be missed.
Back at deuce, she forced a fourth, with an inside-out forehand that screamed into the far corner. Then came a forehand winner down the line to claim the set 6–4.
In the moment, Raducanu whirled her arms around to turn up the volume in the vast stadium.
At 5–2 in the second set she was a game away from glory and then, twice, just a point away. Only then did she exhibit signs of nerves. Fernandez held serve, thereby asking the question of whether her opponent could serve it out at 5–3.
Points were traded to get to 30-all and the next one was dictated by the Canadian. In the course of losing it, while chasing behind the baseline, Raducanu lost her footing and scraped her knee along the concrete surface. Seeing blood seeping from the wound, she calmly walked to her chair to seek attention.
After scraping her knee, she called for medical attention with blood seeping from the wound
Five minutes and five seconds had passed by the time Raducanu served again, with Fernandez unhappy at the hiatus, and the Brit nervelessly came off better from an eight-shot rally.
Match point came again and as destiny called, Raducanu took her time. She went to her towel, briefly rubbed down, returned to her mark and threw the ball up against the New York sky.
Down came the racket with a relatively open face, sending the ball straight and true into the corner, flying way beyond the reach of Fernandez.
The Arthur Ashe Stadium erupted for the final time. It was just shy of 6.10pm and it felt like all the clocks had stopped. The miracle of New York was complete. The victor fell to the floor, lying on her back with her hands covering her face. The loser sportingly walked round the net to meet her and embrace.
Five minutes and five seconds had passed by the time Raducanu served again, with Leylah Fernandez unhappy at the hiatus
Amid the cacophony Raducanu asked umpire Marijana Veljovic if she could leave the court to give her small team a celebratory hug up in the box — as if she would refuse.
Back on the court, amid swirling ticker tape, Billie Jean King presented her with the trophy and a cheque worth £1.8million — more than seven times her previous career prize money.
In the aftermath, as Raducanu sat on her courtside chair soaking it all in, the stadium sound system sparked up with Sweet Caroline, which the England football team had turned into the anthem of the English sporting summer. The small number of expats who had come along to support lustily led the singalong, and were joined by the player herself.
It was well past 10pm before all her obligations were finally done, and the tournament would lay on transport back to Manhattan. The team and some of those who had contributed to the fortnight jumped into a van and they rumbled down the expressway for the last time to an appropriate soundtrack.
The victor on Arthur Ashe fell to the floor, lying on her back with her hands covering her face
‘After Emma had done all her commitments we all climbed into a minibus,’ recounted Tim Henman. ‘Someone put on Sweet Caroline and I’ve got this great video on my phone of everyone singing along to it.’
The Presidential Suite had been booked, and instead of venturing out into what was left of the night the small group tucked into champagne and a sushi feast, looking back on the astonishing events of recent weeks.
‘It was a very special night, and a real privilege to be invited and be there,’ said Henman.
At 4.45am he retired for the night, but the new champion was still going strong, adrenaline and excitement still coursing through her.
Billie Jean King presented the teenager with the trophy and a cheque worth £1.8million
While she celebrated on, some of us were getting up, ready for a long stint at the keyboard.
The whole fortnight had been among the greatest things we could have been lucky enough to witness, something truly uplifting. But this was coupled with a slight frisson of anxiety, given the history of those who have achieved great things in women’s tennis at a tender age.
At the end of my sixth piece filed that Sunday for the Daily Mail was an attempt to distil the sense of the immediate past and the future: ‘Her values will be tested at times in the coming years — tennis does that to young people. But that can wait. Better now to reflect on two weeks that were spontaneous, innocent and utterly glorious.’
Adapted from EMMA RADUCANU: WHEN TENNIS CAME HOME by Mike Dickson, published by Hodder today at £20. © Mike Dickson 2022.
To order a copy for £18 (offer valid to June 20, P&P free on orders over £20) visit: mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3176 2937.
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