The most inexperienced players also looked the most comfortable in the first week of the US Open.
As of the qualifying draw, Emma Raducanu of Great Britain has won all six of her matches in straight sets, with no tiebreak required in any of her. Her most recent win was her most impressive: She defeated 41st-ranked Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain, 6-0, 6-1, on Saturday to reach the round of 16, where she will face American Shelby Rogers on Monday.
“I am extremely fresh; I haven’t really played on tour all year,” Raducanu said on Saturday. “This whole experience is just so new to me; I think that’s the fun factor I get.”
Raducanu was the third 18-year-old to reach the fourth round of this year’s US Open, along with Leylah Fernandez and Carlos Alcaraz. Those two are through to the quarterfinals.
“It’s just great for the game to have so many young players because it just shows how strong this next generation is,” said Raducanu. “With so many young players and 18-year-olds, I think we all inspire each other to play better. Because just like for me today, I wanted to be with them in the second week too, so that was an extra bit of motivation.”
Although Raducanu has won her competitions outside the biggest courts where Fernandez and Alcaraz broke through, she has proved no less popular here. After her press conference on Saturday, she spent more than an hour interviewing, signing autographs and taking selfies.
Raducanu, who was born in Toronto to a Romanian father and a Chinese mother, now represents Great Britain. She was 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. However, that tournament ended on a snag when she was forced to retire from her fourth round match after having trouble breathing.
“After playing on the tour for four, five weeks, I think every week I’m getting more and more used to the physical demands of playing at this level,” Raducanu said. “Yes, I think I’m getting better.”
Although Raducanu remained the most acclaimed player after Wimbledon, making new recommendations in the process, she continued to improve outside the limelight. After Wimbledon, she played as much as she could, making her way from San Jose to Landisville, Pennsylvania, to Chicago before coming to New York for her first qualifier.
Less than two months after Wimbledon, Raducanu is about to break into the top 100 and get better by the round. Her win over Sorribes Tormo, who plays a grueling form of tennis and who defeated Ashleigh Barty from the Tokyo Olympics, was balanced, accurate and patient. Although Raducanu prefers to play first-strike tennis, she held her own in lengthy exchanges with Sorribes Tormo, who pushed the average rally length to over six shots.
“Frankly, I think with the number of matches I’ve played and the experience I’ve gained in the last four, five weeks, my game just gets better with each match,” said Raducanu.
During the coronavirus pandemic, Raducanu trained at the Lawn Tennis Association’s National Tennis Center in London, where he teamed up with coach Mark Petchey after Philippe Dehaes was unable to come to England due to 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, eventually opting for a longer Wilson racket to give her shots more pop. Although her game needed work, Petchey was impressed with her attitude and dedication, which he equated with that of another player he has worked with: Andy Murray.
“Her attitude to training and exercise was without a doubt as good as, say, Andy’s,” Petchey said. “I haven’t had a single session with her in that period where it was less than all she had.”
Petchey, who provided remote television analytics for Amazon Prime at last year’s US Open, said his enthusiasm for Raducanu made it easy to return to practice court with her hours after working night shifts in the broadcast booth.
“Honestly, I wouldn’t have done those mornings if I wasn’t 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 season. She is now coached by a third English coach, Andrew Richardson.
A rare top contender who completed her studies at a conventional high school instead of going to a tennis academy, Raducanu was “very smart and very analytical with how she sees the game,” said Petchey, calling her a “helicopter player” for her ability. to see it as if you were looking from above.
“If you don’t have the tools, it doesn’t help you that much because you can’t put the ball in the right place,” Petchey said of her strategic insight. “But Emma has the tools, and she’s able to pick your weakness and get the ball through the field fast enough to impress.”
He added: “At this stage of development of a player’s career, it’s hard to play with that kind of clarity. That’s what I’ve seen this 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 percent of her physical capabilities,” further expanding her potential.
“There are things she will do so much better in a year,” 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 space to go. She’s going to be great for the WTA. She’s going to be great.”