Emma Raducanu soaked in tennis’ biggest stage and then set about starring on it as she became the youngest British player to reach the quarter-finals of the US Open for more than 60 years.
Shelby Rogers had defeated world number one Ashleigh Barty in Arthur Ashe Stadium two days ago but it was a very different experience for the American here as Raducanu reeled off 11 games in a row in a 6-2 6-1 victory to book a last-eight date with Olympic champion Belinda Bencic.
Raducanu was the first woman since Jennifer Capriati in 1990 to reach at least the fourth round of her first two grand slam tournaments and she is only the third qualifier to reach the quarter-finals in New York.
The nearly 24,000-capacity Ashe is the biggest stadium in tennis and Raducanu took time before the coin toss to gaze up at the towering stands.
“I definitely wanted to take it all in,” she said. “I went out there to practise this morning, but there was no one in the crowd. So it did feel different going out there with a crowd, all of the lights, displays on the board. It did take some adjusting.
“I was really trying to enjoy the moment. It’s something that you dream of, to play on Ashe, the biggest court in the world. I really didn’t expect to be here so soon. I just really wanted to be in the present.”
Raducanu’s Wimbledon adventure ended in the fourth round in unfortunate circumstances when she struggled with breathing problems and had to retire, but she has shown with every match in New York how much she has progressed in the two months since.
Raducanu is the third teenager to make it through to the last eight after Leylah Fernandez and Carlos Alcaraz. Speaking after her brilliant win over Angelique Kerber on Sunday, Fernandez said was was not surprised by anything she had achieved this fortnight.
“Leylah’s achieved great results,” said Raducanu. “I think everyone is on their own trajectory. Personally, I am surprised that I’m here. I knew I was doing a lot of great work that would pay off someday, but you never know when.
“I’m super appreciative of the moment. To be here in the US Open, quarter-finals, after not playing for 18 months, is absolutely just incredible.”
The speed of Raducanu’s rise after taking time away from the match court to focus on her A levels is extraordinary. Having been ranked outside the world’s top 350 in June, she is now projected to break into the top 75, and one more victory would make her British number one.
Announcing herself on the biggest stage.
— wta (@WTA) September 6, 2021
The other mind-blowing aspect of her run has been the ease with which she has come through matches, dropping just 15 games in four contests, fewer than any other women’s quarter-finalist in New York since Serena Williams in 2013.
Raducanu looked nervous initially and Rogers had two points for a 3-0 lead. Had she taken either of them, it might have been a very different match, but Raducanu steadied herself and Rogers began spraying the ball to all parts of the stadium.
A thumping return winner from Raducanu gave her a sixth game in a row to win the first set, and she was 5-0 up in the second before Rogers finally stopped the rot.
With Virginia Wade, a New York resident and the last British woman to win the US Open in 1968, among the appreciative spectators in the front row, Raducanu clinched victory on her fourth match point.
Virginia Wade's applause to @EmmaRaducanu 👏
Raducanu's words for Wade ❤️
— Amazon Prime Video Sport (@primevideosport) September 6, 2021
“It means a lot to have gone out there and to have performed,” she said. “Shelby Rogers is an extremely experienced opponent, so I knew I would have to bring it today.
“To play on Ashe for the first time, it was a little bit of a nervy experience in the beginning. I was really proud of myself, how I managed to settle and regroup and find a level that at the end took me to the win.
“I’m feeling very confident and happy with how I’m performing out here in the States. I feel like I’m building with each match. I’m really excited to see what I can do on Wednesday.”
It was a chastening experience for Rogers, who found herself with little energy in the tank after her big win over Barty.
“That was pretty embarrassing,” said the 28-year-old. “It was a tough day at the office. Unfortunately I had to fail in front of thousands and thousands of people. So I have to live with that one.”
Rogers praised Raducanu, saying: “I have watched her the last few months. She’s been doing a lot of great stuff. I’m excited for her. That’s the next generation of our sport, and it’s in good hands.”