Raducanu’s Dreamy US Open Fortnight Keeps Getting Better

Emma Raducanu (photo: Pete Staples/USTA)

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON, September 9, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Emma Raducanu, the 150th-ranked British teenager with the beaming smile and bubbly personality, did it again. Her dreamy run at this year’s US Open continued with an impressive 6-3, 6-4 victory over Tokyo Olympics gold medalist and No. 11 seed Belinda Bencic of Switzerland on Arthur Ashe Stadium Wednesday afternoon.

It was Raducanu’s eighth straight win going back to the start of qualifying two weeks ago and the World No. 12 Bencic is the highest-raked player that she’s beaten this year and the first ranked in the Top 20. Raducanu is into her first major semifinal after winning 16 straight sets while dropping just 38 games total.

From qualifier to semifinalist at the US Open – the only woman or man to attain this distinction – Raducanu also became the lowest-ranked player in history to make the semifinals at the US Open and the third outside the Top 100 to reach the US Open semifinal round, joining unbanked Billie Jean King in 1979 and Kim Clijsters in 2009.

“I’m so pleased to have come through that. Belinda is such a great opponent and she’s an Olympic gold medallist, which is probably one of the biggest events in sport,” Raducanu said during her 13-minute post-match press conference.

“She’s a great player, and I knew it’s going to be an extremely difficult match. It took me some adjusting at the beginning to get used to her ball speed, yeah, how aggressive she was. Once I adjusted, I settled in. I didn’t overpress as much.”

After Bencic broke to open the match, Raducanu settled her nerves and went to work. Soon, she leveled the set at 3-all with a couple of down-the-line forehand winners, then broke the 24-year-old Bencic for a 5-3 lead and confidently served out the set.

Later, ahead 5-4 in the second set, Raducanu served for the match. Although Bencic gained a love-30 advantage, Raducanu recovered and set up match point with her sixth ace. She wrapped up the win as Bencic netted a return that ended a 10-shot rally.

“It was love-30 in my last couple service games,” Raducanu said. “So to hold was pretty big. I was just trying to focus on what I can control. My serve. Slamming first serves. …

“I found a way to win, but it was very difficult to play against someone at such a high level.”

After securing victory, Raducanu dropped her racquet to the ground, broke out a big smile and placed her hands on her head, perhaps, in a state of disbelief. But make no mistake, there was plenty of happiness spilling over from the Toronto-born Raducanu, who now lives in London with her parents – her mother is Chinese and her father is Romanian.

“I’ve got an absolutely amazing support team here with me. And I also have a team back home, we’ve been staying in contact,” Raducanu explained. “They couldn’t be here but I’m sure they were watching. I hope.”

Raducanu finished with six aces and hit 23 winners to just 12 unforced errors. She won 69 percent (27 of 39) of her first-serve points, saved four of five break points and outpointed Bencic 61-53.

The loss was just the second for the Swiss No. 1 in her last 15 matches. Since bowing in the opening round of Wimbledon, Bencic won six straight to capture the Olympic gold medal, then reached the quarterfinals at the Western & Southern Open in Mason, Ohio. At the US Open, Bencic had compiled four consecutive straight-set wins, defeating Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands, Martina Trevisan of Italy, No. 23 seed Jessica Pegula of the United States and No. 7 seed Iga Swiatek of Poland.

“I think to compare yourself and your results against anyone is probably like the thief of happiness, and everyone is doing their own thing,” Raducanu said. “I mean, I didn’t compete for 18 months, but here I am, and it just shows that if you believe in yourself, then anything is possible.”

Sakkari first Greek woman to reach US Open semifinals

Next, the poised Raducanu, who has gone from hometown hero to international superstar in a matter of days, will meet No. 17 seed Maria Sakkari of Greece in Thursday evening’s second semifinal. Her 6-4, 6-4 victory over No. 4 seed Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic made her the first Greek woman to reach the semifinals of the US Open.

Sakkari did so on the strength of hitting 22 winners, winning 92 percent (23 of 25) of her first-serve points, and losing just eight points on her serve overall. Sakkari, who is making her 20th Grand Slam main draw appearance, did not face any break points on her serve. Pliskova finished with just 14 winners and committed 20 unforced errors. Sakkari outpointed Pliskova 65-47. It was her third straight win over a Top 10-seeded opponent, following earlier victories over 10th seed Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic and No. 6 seed Bianca Andreescu of Canada.

When ESPN‘s Pam Shriver told Sakkari during the post-match interview on court that she had won 22 consecutive points on serve during one six-game stretch early in the match, it took Sakkari by surprise. “I’m impressed,” she said smiling. “I trusted my serve, but now I’m going to trust it even more.

“I’m speechless. I don’t know what to say.”

Pliskova was asked in press if there’s anything she could have done better against Sakkari. She replied: “No, I mean, of course, disappointed, but it’s not like it would be really in mind hands, this match. 

“I didn’t have any chances on her serve. I don’t think I played the best tennis today. I don’t think I was serving the way I was serving the last couple of matches, which you have to serve against opponents like this because she doesn’t give you much for free. … Credit to her. Not really the tennis which I wanted to play.”

In Thursday’s first semifinal, No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus will play unseeded and 73rd-ranked Canadian teenager Leylah Fernandez.

Zverev routs Harris, extends winning streak to 16

Fourth seed Alexander Zverev reached his second straight US Open semifinal with a bang. The World No. 4 from Germany fired 21 aces – including a 136 mile-per-hour beauty on match point – and hit 43 winners en route to a 7-6 (6), 6-3, 6-4 one-sided victory over unseeded Lloyd Harris of South Africa in an efficient two hours and six minutes on Arthur Ashe Stadium Wednesday afternoon.

Now, Zverev is just one win away from returning to the US Open final for the second straight year. He lost the title last year to Dominic Thiem of Austria in a five-set thriller.

“I think the match was a little bit strange,” Zverev said of his quarterfinal against Harris afterward during his press conference. “I think the first set he played very well, didn’t give me a lot of chances on his serve. Yeah, I mean, after that I started to play much better.

“I think the turning point was the first set. … I won it, and it did kind of go my way after that.”

Zverev’s victory against Harris was his 16th straight, a winning streak that began at the Tokyo Olympics in late July. Since then, he’s won his first Olympic gold medal as well an ATP Masters 1000 title at the Western & Southern Open. At the US Open, Zverev has dropped just one set – against Jack Sock last Saturday – while compiling five impressive wins. After saving a set point during the first-set tie break against Harris, Zverev took control of the quarterfinal match. It was his second victory against Harris during the winning streak.

Although the No. 46 Harris finished with 13 aces and hit 34 winners, he was no match for Zverev and finished with 26 unforced errors. In addition to winning 82 percent (53 of 65) of his first-serve points, Zverev also was efficient in winning 66 percent (19 of 29) of Harris’s second serves and broke his opponent four times. The German, who now has compiled 83 aces in his five wins, outpointed Harris 102-85.

“Obviously, not an easy one to swallow. I mean, was a little bit of a roller coaster match. I had my opportunities. Didn’t exactly go my way,” Harris said during press.

“The level wasn’t quite where it needed to be. A little disappointing in that regard. Nonetheless, still a lot of positives to take from the week.”

Indeed, Harris pulled off a trio of impressive wins earlier in the tournament, starting with a five-set triumph over No. 25 seed Karen Khachanov of Russia, followed by a third-round upset of No. 7 seed Denis Shapovalov of Canada and a round of 16 victory against No. 22 seed Reilly Opelka of the United States in a battle of big servers.

Zverev gave props to Harris during his on-court interview with ESPN‘s James Blake. “He was serving incredible in the first set, especially. So, I didn’t have a lot of chances on his serve. I somehow managed to win the first set and that loosened me up a little bit. I started playing better in the third set. He started swinging, started playing incredible tennis. I’m happy to be through in three.”

Later, Zverev also thanked the New York fans. “I played the final here last year in front of exactly six people. That was a little bit weird for me but it’s incredible to have the New York crowd back,” he said. “The energy of the people we missed for over a year all over the world. It’s good to see the world going slowly back to normalcy. Sports are emotions but the spectators are the ones who give us the emotions. It’s going to be an exciting semis.”

Asked if he would watch Wednesday night’s quarterfinal match between top seed Novak Djokovic and No. 6 seed Matteo Berrettini that would determine his semifinal opponent, Zverev quipped: “Of course! I’m going to watch it like everybody else, I guess. I hope it goes eight hours and 30 minutes and the winner will be very tired and I will go to the final!”

Zverev didn’t quite get his wish for a marathon quarterfinal battle between the World No. 1 from Serbia and Berrettini from Italy. However, it was Djokovic, who moved one victory closer to history early Thursday morning in Arthur Ashe Stadium with his 5-7, 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 victory in three hours and 26 minutes to advance to his 12th US Open semifinal of his career. It was a rematch of July’s Wimbledon final in which Djokovic also beat Berrettini.

The 34-year-old Djokovic extended his Grand Slam winning streak to 26 matches and he remained unbeaten in US Open quarterfinals.

Wednesday’s US Open results

Thursday’s US Open order of play

Around the US Open

By the numbers

Alexander Zverev is trying to become just the second man to win an Olympic gold meal and the US Open in the same season. The first to do it? Try Great Britain’s Andy Murray, who won the gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics then followed it by beating Novak Djokovic in the US Open final.

Emma Raducanu has not lost a set in her eight US Open matches (three in qualifying and five in the main draw). She has lost just 22 total games in her five main draw victories, fewest of any woman remaining.

“Quotable …”

• “I have just been focusing one day at a time, taking care of each day. When you’re playing tournaments, you just get into this sort of autopilot mode of your routines, recovering on the day off in between.

“I didn’t expect to be here at all. I mean, I think my flights were booked at the end of qualifying, so it’s a nice problem to have.

“Yeah, I’m just really enjoying the experience. Out there on the court today, I was saying to myself, This could be the last time you play on Ashe, so might as well just go for it and enjoy everything.”

Emma Raducanu, 18, of Great Britain, on describing her two-week US Open journey, in which she’s won eight straight matches (three in qualifying and five in the main draw) and not dropped a set.

• “It’s great for tennis. It’s obviously great stories. I just really hope that everyone will protect them and will hope the best for them and not try to, you know, kind of not destroy but, you know, put so much pressure and so much hype around them so it just gets too much.

“I just hope everyone will stay and will really hope the best for them so they can just develop and kind of in peace also a little bit.”

Belinda Bencic of Switzerland, on teen sensations Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez, both who have reached the US Open semifinals.

• “I think it’s a big thing for Greece. I didn’t have a chance to say that on court. I want to dedicate this win to Greece because we struggled a lot last month with some fire damages. So, for me winning for Greece, making Greek people proud and happy, especially in difficult times, it makes me even more happy because you know how much I love my country.

“I don’t know the attention I’m getting back home now. I guess it’s probably going to be same or even more than the French [Open].

“What I witnessed after the French was only good things. I never heard a bad comment from someone. They were all coming to me with a very nice smile and very nice words to say. I can only embrace that and just have good memories from it because that’s not going to last for my entire life. I’m going to be remembered, for sure, but I’m not going to be an active player in 10 years or 15 years.”

Maria Sakkari of Greece, on what her success on the tennis court in reaching the US Open semifinals means for her country.