‘Nothing to lose’: Emma Raducanu taking free-spirited approach into US Open second week

Emma Raducanu celebrates defeating Sara Sorribes Tormo

For Emma Raducanu, her Sunday routine before the start of the second week of a Grand Slam remained the same. Like it was at Wimbledon, the 18-year-old eagerly tuned in to watch the latest instalment of the Formula 1 world title race between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen before she hit the practice court with coach Andrew Richardson. On the horizon in New York City loomed the biggest match of her young career so far, with the cavernous bowl of the Arthur Ashe Stadium at the US Open awaiting to play host to the latest chapter of her dramatic rise.

Only nine weeks have passed since Raducanu’s dream debut run at Wimbledon ended with her sudden and painful retirement under the bright lights of Court One. In a summer in which England reached the final of Euro 2020 on home soil, Raducanu’s improbable and historic progression to the tournament’s second week, on her first Grand Slam appearance, captured the public’s imagination like little else. She arrived from nowhere, having just completed her A-Levels, and dazzled until her fourth-round exit, eventually overcome by breathing difficulties as she trailed Ajla Tomljanovic.

Now, the teenager is back on centre stage, having also reached the fourth round on her US Open debut. Since the whirlwind of Wimbledon, her second senior tournament, she has accumulated further experience of life on the professional tour. It may have only been a few weeks, but Raducanu says she is becoming accustomed to the physical demands of the top level and has grown in confidence with each passing win on her stateside swing, which has come away from the all-encompassing glare and pressure of a home Slam.

The result has, yet again, been thrilling. The Londoner is reluctant to compare her first impressions of Wimbledon and Flushing Meadows but is insistent that she is playing better tennis in New York than she did on the grass courts of SW19, as world number 49 Shuai Zhang and then world number 41 Sara Sorribes Tormo have discovered to their detriment.

Against Sorribes Tormo in the third round on Saturday, Raducanu put on a clinic in ball-striking as she mercilessly attacked the Spaniard with an array of vicious ground-strokes. The opening set was won 6-0 in 32 astonishing minutes, before she then breezed into a 5-0 lead in the second on her way to sealing the 6-0 6-1 demolition, never once pausing to back down or play a defensive point. “This is just silly,” admired a stunned Laura Robson, the former British number one, who also reached the fourth round of the US Open as an 18-year-old in 2012.

To watch Raducanu, as Robson did, was to witness a player thrive under an ideal environment of expectations and pressure, neither of which weighed too great to detract from their overall enjoyment of the sport. Raducanu has described her maiden US Open campaign, which she reached following three rounds of qualifying, as a “free swing”, an approach she took quite literally as she fearlessly aimed for the corners with power against Sorribes Tormo. “I think that when I’m playing my best is when I’m having fun,” she said afterwards, when asked about the flashes of her trademark smile which routinely followed those devastating winners.

It helps, perhaps, that she has been allowed space and time to breathe amongst the noise of New York, which of itself is the busiest of the four Slams. Of course, Raducanu’s breakthrough at Wimbledon was enjoyed stateside and her star is growing in the US as well, but nothing compares to the mania that follows of Brit exceeding expectations at Wimbledon. She was transported onto Court One after just two wins at SW19 but has taken advantage of an extended stay on the show courts at the US, with her third round win over Sorribes Tormo coming on Court 17, tucked into the southeast corner of the grounds. It may also be of benefit that in New York, Raducanu is simply just another extraordinary teenager in a tournament that is becoming defined by the sensational performances of extraordinary teenagers, following the exploits of Leylah Fernandez in defeating Naomi Osaka and Angelique Kerber, and Carlos Alcaraz in ousting Stefanos Tsitsipas. Raducanu has cited the fairytale runs of both players in providing her with extra motivation, as she now aims to join them in the quarter-finals.

The start of the second week, however, is the moment where the spotlight narrows. Raducanu will make her bow on the towering Arthur Ashe court against the similarly unseeded American Shelby Rogers, whose victory over world number one Ash Barty has blown their half of the draw wide open. It is a reversal, in some ways, of the atmosphere Raducanu faced the last time she was at this stage, during that night on a partisan Court One where her Wimbledon experience finally “caught up” with her.

A lot has changed in such a short space of time, with Raducanu even more committed to her “nothing to lose” approach which has so far accompanied her emergence onto the big scene. The key for Raducanu, after all, remains in her enjoyment of the sport. If she can retain that under the scrutiny of the biggest tennis stadium in the world, she will walk away as a winner no matter the outcome.

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