With a thrilling 6-5, 6-3 victory over Leylah Fernandez – one that literally featured blood, sweat, and tears – 18 – year – old Emma Raducanu is the newly minted women’s champion of the U.S. Open, the youngest Grand Slam single winner in 17 years. (The blood come during the final game of the match as Raducanu lunged for a shot, sliding her shin across the court; the tears came from both players, for different reasons; the sweat we’ll call obvious.)
Serving out the match with an ace, Raudcanu fell to the court, held her hands over the face, and then erupted into what’s likely the biggest smile of her life after winning what some are already calling the greatest tennis tournament anyone has ever played.
‘I knew that I had to dig deep’, Raducanu said after the match. Dig she did, overcoming service breaks, several missed championship points and, yes, a medical timeout during the final game to patch up the blood on her shin. Asked what her victory says about the future of women’s tennis, Raducanu said that ‘It shows that the future of women’s tennis and the depth of the game right now is so great – I hope that the next generation can follow in the example of some of the greats right here’, calling out the legendary Billie Jean King on the podium next to her.
Fernandez, who won over crowds throughout her run to the final, thanked them for standing by her. ‘You were there when I was having tough times and you were there when I was having good times’, she said, upon receiving her runner – up trophy. ‘Thank you for always having my back’. She also took note of the larger significance of their match being played on September 11. ‘I know this day is especially hard for New York and everyone around the United States’, she continued. ‘I just want to say that I hope I can be as strong and as resilient as New York has been the past 20 years’. (It’s worth nothing that neither of today’s finalists were born when the 9/11 attacks happened.)
The mere fact that this final matchup existed was cause enough for celebration: 159th – ranked Raducanu is the first qualifier – men or women – to reach the final of any Grand Slam tournament. (For the uninitiated: She had to win a tournament before the tournament just to enter the main draw of the U.S. Open). 73rd – ranked Fernandez – who turned 19 this past Monday – rode a string of massive upsets – against 3rd – seed Naomi Osaka and 16th seed Angelique Kerber in five sets, 11th – seeded Belinda Bencic in two sets, and 2nd – seeded Aryana Sabalenka in three sets to get there. (Raducanu, meanwhile, who had already won the hearts of tennis fans in her native England with her Wimbledon run earlier this summer, raced through six matches – only two of the against seeded players – without dropping a set.)
Both players conceded nothing and played like trained assassin, with Fernandez riding the baseline, as is her custom – cutting down the time her opponents have to react and forcing the ball into angles virtually impossible to reach – while Raducanu relentlessly pummeled the ball, pouncing on short returns and swinging for fences. Her reaction upon stealing the first set, breaking Fernandez’s serve, spoke volumes: She calmly faced her team in her player’s boz, showing them that she knew she had another set to win – but then pumped her arms upward, rallying the crowd (which seemed, as the match began, slightly pr – Fernandez, judging solely by their roar as the players were introduced).
The only time these players have met on the court before? Three years ago, in the Wimbledon juniors, when both players were 15. Raducanu won that one, too.