The women’s game has had its fair share of unexpected Grand Slam champions in recent years - but tennis has seen nothing before like the emergence of Emma Raducanu.
The 18-year-old Brit became the first qualifier to ever win a Grand Slam title when she beat fellow teen Leylah Fernandez 6-4 6-3 in an inspiring US Open women’s final on Saturday.
Raducanu, extraordinarily, won 10 straight matches and 20 consecutive sets to complete the triumph – all while ranked a lowly No.150.
“It's an absolute dream,” said Raducanu, who was playing in just her second Grand Slam main draw ever.
“For that moment to actually happen, yeah, I'm just so grateful for my team that are here with me, the team that are back home, the LTA, every single person who supported me along this journey.”
That journey at this year’s US Open prompted bewildered questions from tennis insiders, commentators, fans and casual observers alike.
Where did she come from? How was she doing this? When would her run end?
Ultimately, it never did, and she went all the way to the title. Raducanu did her best to explain the unlikeliest of breakthroughs.
It was a privilege to watch @EmmaRaducanu create history tonight. She has accomplished something that will never be repeated in our sport. To come through qualifying , to win 10 matches in arrow with dropping a set, and win a major in only her 2nd appearance . Remarkable— Greg Rusedski (@GregRusedski1) September 12, 2021
“I don't feel any pressure. I'm still only 18 years old. I'm just having a free swing at anything that comes my way. That's how I faced every match here,” she said.
“I think the biggest triumph for me is how I managed to just not think of absolutely anything else except for my game plan, what I'm going to execute. All the outside stuff, I just completely zoned in and focused on my craft.
“I think what I did very well this tournament was press in the moments that I really needed to. I guess that's why I didn't drop a set on paper, even though all of the matches were extremely challenging.
“I think to pull off some of the shots I did in the big moments when I really needed it was just an accumulation of everything I've learnt in the past five weeks.”
Just three months ago, Raducanu, having recently completed her A-levels, embarked on the grass-court season with just a few weeks’ practice under her belt, still ranked outside the world’s top 350.
She hadn’t played a competitive event for 15 months but quickly reached the quarterfinals at an ITF 100K event in Nottingham – a result that saw her Wimbledon qualifying wildcard upgraded to a main-draw one.
She took advantage of that opportunity, lighting up the All England Club with a surprise fourth-round run which she described as both an incredible experience and a great achievement.
“But I was still hungry,” Raducanu revealed, tellingly.
“I was working hard after the grass. I didn't have much time off. Then straight back out here to the States. With each match and tournament and week, I think I've really built in terms of confidence, in terms of my game, in terms of my ball striking.
“Everything came together today.”
Indeed, she has won 18 of her 20 matches since Wimbledon to become the sport’s newest superstar.
Before that run she “wouldn't have believed it at all” if someone had told her she would become a Grand Slam champion by the end of the summer.
But Raducanu admitted to having visions of such success as the moment got closer, and, as she stepped up to the line to deliver that final ace, she was completely in the moment, concentrating on executing the serve that would see her re-write the record books.
“The match point, I don't think I made one serve that wide in the whole match, to be honest. I was, like, If I'm going to make it, this is going to be the time,” she smiled.
“I literally drove my legs up to that ball toss like never before. I landed it. (Then it was) just disbelief, trying to take everything in, all the moment.
“The visions I had, they were from pretty early on. I've always dreamed of winning a Grand Slam. You just say these things. But to have the belief I did, and actually executing, winning a Grand Slam, I can't believe it.
“I think the biggest thing that you have visions of is, for me it was just the winning moment, and going to celebrate with your team in the box, trying to find your way up to the box, just seeing them after the match.
“That's been playing in my head, like, a couple nights. I've fallen asleep to that.”
When she next wakes up, she will have risen to world No.23.
And with her current momentum and mindset, it seems unlikely she will stop there.
Raducanu's records: What the US Open champ has achieved
> She is the first qualifier to ever win a Grand Slam tournament
> At world No.150, she is the Open Era's second-lowest ranked US Open behind unranked 2009 champion Kim Clijsters
> She won her first Grand Slam title in just her second main-draw appearance, the fewest of any player in the Open Era
Playing in just her 2nd main draw at a major, Emma Raducanu is the first woman in the Open Era to win her 1st Slam in fewer than 4 major appearances.— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) September 11, 2021
2 - Raducanu (2021 US Open)
4 - Seles (1990 Roland Garros)
4 - Andreescu (2019 US Open)#USOpen
> She is the youngest player to win a major title in 17 years (since 17-year-old Maria Sharapova at Wimbledon 2004)
> She is the first British female player to win the US Open in 53 years (since Virginia Wade won in 1968)