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Qualifier Emma Raducanu makes U.S. Open history by reaching the semifinals


NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 08: Emma Raducanu of the United Kingdom celebrates match point against Belinda Bencic of Switzerland during her Women's Singles quarterfinals match on Day Ten of the 2021 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 08, 2021 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) Credit: Getty Images/Al Bello

Remember when Leylah Fernandez was the fresh-faced wunderkind who stormed into the U.S. Open semifinals?

That was so Tuesday. By early Wednesday afternoon Fernandez was old news, literally.

Now the Canadian has been joined in the semifinals by an even younger player — Emma Raducanu of England. At 18, she is two months younger than Fernandez, who turned 19 on Monday.

Raducanu defeated No. 11 seed Belinda Bencic, the reigning Olympic gold medalist, 6-3, 6-4, to advance against the winner of Wednesday night’s quarterfinal between Karolina Pliskova and Maria Sakkari.

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

About that "qualifying" reference: She became the first qualifier, woman or man, to reach the U.S. Open semifinals in the Open era.

She said she was unaware of the landmark until hearing about it Wednesday and was not particularly interested in that and her other historic footnotes.

"I’m not here to chase any records right now," she said. "I’m just taking care of what I can do in the moment and in the match at hand."

Raducanu said she has known Fernandez since they were playing as preteens on the youth circuit.

"The fact that we’re both here in the semifinals of the U.S. Open after having played each other from the early days, it’s very cool to just see how far we’ve come," Raducanu said. "She’s a really cool person."

Fernandez handed out birthday cupcakes to fellow players earlier in the week.

But as unlikely as Fernandez’s run has been, Raducanu’s has topped it in improbability.

Raducanu did reach the fourth round at Wimbledon this summer, but that was her only previous main-draw appearance in a Grand Slam tournament.

Bencic was the first top-40 opponent she had ever faced.

Now Raducanu has not lost a set in five main-draw victories at the Open. Only twice in 10 sets has an opponent even managed to win four games, including Bencic.

And she has handled herself on the court and off with aplomb.

Early on, it appeared her run might be over when Bencic broke her in the match’s first game. But Raducanu stormed back to win that set with ease, and in a tense second set was far calmer than Bencic, 24.

Down 0-30 in the 10th game of the set, Raducanu closed it out with four consecutive points, including a brilliant, sharp-angle service ace to go up 40-30.

"You definitely need a sense of calm to get through that moment," she said.

Raducanu said her parents, who are back home in England, instilled a positive attitude in her, and that she also has a naturally calm personality.

When there was thick traffic to Queens after last week’s heavy rains and flooding, she suggested to her coaches that she simply blow off practice altogether. "It’s all mental at the end of the day," she said.

Raducanu’s year-end singles ranking history goes like this: 692nd in 2018, 503rd in 2019, 343rd in 2020. She was still in the mid-300s in June. She now will rise to 51.

First, there is the matter of trying to win two more matches. Has she developed an added hunger now that she is so close to a championship?

"I’d say I have a hunger to win every single match I play," she said, "so I don’t want to get ahead of myself at all."

Raducanu said she told herself on the court Wednesday that it might be the last time she gets to play on the big stage at Arthur Ashe Stadium, so why not enjoy the ride?

On Thursday, she will play there again, and it seems likely there will be more visits in the future.

New York Sports