The summer months of 2021 should have been relatively quiet in terms of major sporting events. Euro 2020 and Tokyo 2020 were scheduled to take place a year ago, and the next FIFA World Cup is still a year away. But due to the necessary postponements that took place throughout last year, this summer has been a smorgasbord of athletic activity. Be it the Euros, the F1, or the Olympics and Paralympics, there has always been a captivating story for you to sink your teeth into.
But as August melts into autumn and summer ends, something has been brewing across the pond. For the first time in tennis history, a qualifier, Emma Raducanu, has won a Grand Slam title. All without losing a single set.
She is the youngest Grand Slam champion since Maria Sharapova in 2004, and the first winner of an entirely teenage final since underdog Serena Williams faced five-time winner Martina Hingis in 1999. It would be fair to say that she finds herself in good company. Starting the summer ranked 366th, and as the 12th ranked British player, Raducanu now lies at 23rd and 1st. At her age I proudly bore the title of having beaten Norwich City’s Under-16s 1-0 in a pre-season friendly. Her victory is undoubtedly more impressive, and it certainly bodes well for the future.
Raducanu’s final opponent, Canada’s Leylah Annie Fernandez, also had an incredible run. She overcame former champions Naomi Osaka and Angelique Kerber, as well as toppling top-five seeds Elina Svitolina and Aryna Sabalenka on her way to the final. They were ranked 3rd, 16th, 5th, and 2nd, respectively. She turned nineteen the day before her quarter-final win, and her loss to Raducanu came only one day after playing three gruelling sets against 16-time WTA Champion Aryna Sabalenka. The trilingual teenager has been a sensation, and it should be celebrated that she managed to lift the runner-up’s silver plate, rather than rued that she fell at the final hurdle.
Throughout the tournament, Raducanu was similarly stellar, only losing more than four games on one occasion, and even then managing twenty points more than qualifying opponent Mariam Bolkvadze. But there is another side to Raducanu’s story: stood proudly in the shadow of her stunning achievements is her family’s heritage.
She is rightly being praised as the first British woman to win a Grand Slam title since Virginia Wade at Wimbledon in 1977, but it is equally important to appreciate, for instance, her Twitter bio: “London|Toronto|Shenyang|Bucharest”. Her sporting idols, the Romanian Simona Halep and Chinese Li Na, originate from the same countries as her parents. In a year where we have seen athletes making racist gestures at the Tokyo Olympics, and vile abuse towards the black English footballers at Euro 2020, Raducanu’s extraordinary win is a triumphant moment of diversity in British sporting successes.
Of course, the main story is her momentous victory: the tale of a teenager from Bromley battling to overcome impossible odds. When Williams beat Hingis, it sparked an unrivalled career; she has won twenty-three Grand Slam titles, more than any other player since the Open era began. But until Saturday, no woman in that time had won a major title at just the second attempt. Considering the names that never managed what Emma Raducanu now has, it is easy to see why everyone is so excited about the new champion.