How a star was born: Emma Raducanu’s journey from junior talent to Grand Slam champion

EMMA Raducanu is the name on every tennis fans lips at the moment, after the 18-year-old Brit took the world by storm and claimed the US Open title in what was effectively her debut season on Tour, and only her fourth major tournament main draw event. But like every amazing story, there is always a journey to accompany it, and this is Raducanu’s; from an international debut at just 13-year-old, to a Grand Slam champion on the hard courts at Flushing Meadows.



Raducanu made her official international debut at the Nike Junior International in Liverpool, November 2015. The then recently turned 13-year-old player mostly British opponents and stormed to the Grade 5 title – the lowest official ITF tour grade – without dropping a set. She did not play another tournament until 2016, where she reached the final of another local International in Bournemouth, this time on clay, where she went down to Hannah McColgan, three years her senior. She reached another final in Luxembourg, her first tournament outside her home nation, going down to German Eva Marie Voracek in a third set tiebreaker. Now playing Grade 4 tournaments, she reached another quarter final in October to make it three tournaments for the year.

Raducanu winning her debut tennis tournament in Liverpool. Picture credit: via Liverpool Echo


Fast forward to February of the following year, and Raducanu, having turned 14 the previous November, cruised to her first Grade 4 title on the hard courts of Hamburg. Not dropping a set along the way, Raducanu defeated the then 18-year-old German Anastazja Rosnowska in the final. A week later Raducanu lost to Dane Clara Tauson in the first round of Tauson’ home tournament in Copenhagen. It would not be the last time the players would face off. Travelling to Noway, Raducanu claimed her second ITF Grade 4 title in Oslo, and reached the main draw of a Grade 2 tournament in Spain before going down in straight sets.

Now settling in to the Grade 2 level, Raducanu reached a couple more quarter finals on clay by April, and on debut in her first Grade 1 tournament – the Belgium International Junior Championships – in May, the Brit reached the second round after coming through qualifying. Her performances allowed her to compete at the 2017 Wimbledon Junior Championships where she reached the second round before going down to Chinese Taipei’s En-Shuo Liang, a couple of years older than her, before ending her year there.


The year that really saw Raducanu become a household name on the junior ITF Tour was 2018, where she started off with a bang, winning a Grade 3 tournament in India without dropping a set. A week later she dominated in the Grade 2 tournament in New Delhi, and then scooped two more titles on the hard courts to make it a mind-boggling 20-straight wins to start the year. At this point, Raducanu was playing senior tournaments on the ITF Tour, winning a title at Tiberias in May, and pushed Harriet Dart to three sets in an ITF 100 tournament in Manchester. It was time for her first Roland Garros. Winning through the first round, she suffered defeat at the hands of Tauson yet again, losing 6-2 6-1 in what was Raducanu’s first loss of the year – in June – in her first clay court tournament of the year.

Raducanu at the 2018 Wimbledon Junior Championships. Picture credit: via The Telegraph

The next tournament was straight onto the grass at Wimbledon where she cruised through the first two rounds, including defeating a young Canadian by the name of Leylah Fernandez in the second round, 6-2 6-4. Few that day would have expected that in just over three years the pair would be facing off for a senior Grand Slam title. Two matches later Raducanu was out, destroyed by a future WTA Tour star in Iga Swiatek with the Pole winning 6-0 6-1 in the quarter final. Swiatek went on to win that title, and of course surprise the Tour with a win at 2020 Roland Garros. At the US Open Junior Championships, Raducanu went down to Frenchwoman Clara Burel 6-2 6-0 in the quarter finals, with Burel reaching the final. In the same year on the senior women’s ITF Tour, Raducanu won an ITF 15 event in Antalya and reached the semis of an ITF 25 event in November.


Raducanu headed Down Under for the first time in 2019, having just turned 16-years-old. She reached the semi-finals of the Grade 1 tournament in Traralgon, where yet again she lost to Tauson. This time it was far closer, going down in three sets. A disappointing straight sets loss in the first round of the Australian Open Juniors was not ideal for the Brit, and then she was forced to retire at Roehampton and lost first round at Wimbledon Juniors after losing to Liang in the first round of qualifiers at the senior Wimbledon. That would be her last Junior ITF tournament. Throughout earlier in the season, she reached a final at Tel Aviv in March, and semis at Bolton in April, defeating talented Spaniard Paula Badosa along the way.

Raducanu wins her first senior ITF 25 event in Pune, 2019. Picture credit: via Tennis World USA

Post her junior career, her first senior tournament in the second half of the season was an ITF 25 event in Roehampton, September 2019 where she knocked off another talented young player in Switzerland’s Leonie Kung on her way to the quarter finals. A semi-finals appearance in the higher ranked ITF 25 event in Roehampton saw her go down to the experienced Anna-Lena Friedsam, and then she reached a quarter finals and a Round of 16 over the next two tournaments, having to retire to compatriot Katie Boulter when 6-2 2-1 down. A week later she showed no signs of injury, storming to her first senior ITF title, winning the ITF 25 event in Pune in December ranked 522 in the world. It bolted her up to 367 to start the following year.


Raducanu entered the new year with a first round loss in Glasgow at the ITF event in February, but a week later reached the final in Sunderland. Whilst the 17-year-old went down to Bulgarian top seed Viktoriya Tomova in the final, it was her relieving straight sets win over Tauson in the semi, that finally saw the Brit overcome her equally-talented nemesis. It would be the last tournament of the year for Raducanu who would reappear just over 12 months later in Nottingham.


Raducanu started her real breakout senior year with a first round loss on the grass at Nottingham, losing to Dart in straight sets, still rusty from the time off. She bounced back at Nottingham a week later to defeat Storm Sanders and the experienced Timea Babos on her way to a quarter final. A couple of wins under her belt and a tight loss to Bulgarian US Open quarter finalist Tsvetana Pironkova prepared her for the main draw debut at her home Grand Slam at Wimbledon. But few would know what was about to come for the 18-year-old.

A straight sets win – including a bagel set – over Russian qualifier Vitalia Diatchenko, which followed with the biggest win of her career against world number 42 and 2019 Roland Garros runner-up Marketa Vondrousova. She defeated the Czech 6-2 6-4 to really announce herself, then cruised past Romanian Sorana Cirstea 6-3 7-5, before feeling the effects of limited preparation prior to the past month, forced to retire to Australian Ajla Tomljanovic midway through the second set.

She was then bundled out in the first round at San Jose as a wildcard a month later, then reached a quarter final of an ITF 100 event and the final of a WTA 125 warmup tournament in Chicago. The highest ranked player there was 58th ranked Belgian Alison Van Uytvanck who Raducanu beat in the first round, making it all the way through to the final before losing to fellow 18-year-old Tauson again in three sets. She then entered the qualifying draw of the US Open.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Raducanu’s remarkable US Open title. Picture credit: Darren Carroll/USTA


F: def. Leylah Fernandez (CAN, 73) 6-4 6-3
SF: def. [17] Maria Sakkari (GRE, 18) 6-1 6-4
QF: def. [11] Belinda Bencic (SUI, 12) 6-3 6-4
R16: def. Shelby Rogers (USA, 43) 6-2 6-1
R32: def. Sara Sorribes Tormo (ESP, 41) 6-0 6-1
R64: def. Shuai Zhang (CHN, 49) 6-2 6-4
R128: def. [Q] Stefanie Voegele (SUI, 128) 6-2 6-3
Q3: def. [4] Mayar Sharif (EGY, 96) 6-1 6-4
Q2: def. Mariam Bolkvadze (GEO, 167) 6-3 7-5
Q1: def. Bibiane Schoofs (NED, 285) 6-1 6-2

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2 years ago

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