Closing out the match with an ace, Emma Raducanu of Great Britain fell to her knees in triumph as she defeated Leylah Fernandez of Canada 6-4, 6-3. The 18-year-old Raducanu, ranked No. 366 at the beginning of the summer, had reached the peak of women’s tennis, claiming a Grand Slam title in an improbable and rapid rise to the top, and she let the relief and exaltation wash over herself.
In a historic U.S. Open women’s singles final, fans saw two unseeded teenagers battle it out for their first Grand Slam titles. Raducanu’s victory sent shockwaves through the sporting world, breaking records in more ways than one.
At just 18 years old, Raducanu’s journey will go down as one of the most remarkable underdog stories in sporting history. She shares her journey with fellow finalist 19-year-old Fernandez. Raducanu entered the tournament ranked No. 150 in the world, with Fernandez ranked at 73. Their spots in the final marked the first time in both men’s and women’s tennis that a Grand Slam final featured two unseeded players since the beginning of the Open Era in 1968. Further, with Grand Slam contenders needing victories in the qualifying round to reach the main draw, Raducanu’s win marked the first time in history that a nonautomatic qualifier took a Grand Slam title.
This feat is even more impressive when you consider that the U.S. Open was Raducanu’s second Grand Slam tournament; she previously reached the fourth round of the 2021 Wimbledon tournament in July. Raducanu is the youngest player to win a Grand Slam tournament since Maria Sharapova’s Wimbledon victory in 2004. Fernandez joins Raducanu in the history books, as the pair made up the first all-teenagers final of the 21st century. The last time the world saw teenagers competing for a Grand Slam final was at the start of then-17-year-old Serena Williams’ career, when she defeated 18-year-old Martina Hingis at the 1999 U.S. Open.
Both finalists proved that they could handle and thrive on the pressure, not in spite of but because of their young ages. With the heavy weight of expectation off their shoulders as unranked players quickly dismissed by experts and analysts, they were able to play their best tennis and show that they belong on the world stage.
Raducanu dominated from the outset, winning every set she played throughout the 10 rounds of the tournament. No one since Serena Williams in 2014 has accomplished this feat at the U.S. Open. Fernandez had a different –– but no less sensational –– journey to the final. She never succumbed to the immense stress of facing the world’s best, beating the likes of Naomi Osaka, Aryna Sabalenka and Elina Svitolina –– all three of whom are ranked in the global top five –– in nail-biting fashion.
Raducanu has also become a tremendous source of national pride for Britain. She is the first British woman to win a Grand Slam singles title since Virginia Wade’s Wimbledon victory in 1977. In a tweet with a photo of her clutching her new trophy in one hand and the Union Jack in the other, she joyfully wrote, “We are taking her HOMEEE.” Raducanu’s victory was celebrated by high-profile British celebrities and politicians, including commendation from Queen Elizabeth II. The Queen’s release described Raducanu’s victory as “a remarkable achievement at such a young age” and “testament to [her] hard work and dedication.” In an extraordinary twist of fate, Britain’s sporting triumph of the year came not from the men’s soccer team at the much-anticipated Euro 2020 tournament, but from a teenage girl completely unknown to most just two weeks ago.
As the legendary Serena and Venus Williams continue to struggle with injuries, and with Naomi Osaka’s indefinite break from the sport, women’s tennis is entering a new age. At the U.S. Open, the new faces of tennis –– mainly teenage girls –– have proven they are a force to be reckoned with; they will continue to rise to any challenges and are not to be underestimated. Raducanu and Fernandez have taken the tennis world by storm, showing that the future of the sport is bright.
They have reinvigorated the sport, and their stories encourage all those watching, especially young people, to dream big –– whether in the sports world or beyond it.
Carrie McDonald is a sophomore in the College. The Equalizer appears online every other week.