Great Brit Emma – Teen Qualifier Raducanu to Semis

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Photo by Getty Images

Bill Simons

New York

MASTER NOLE KNOWS HOW: Here’s an idea to save time for everyone. Let’s just give Novak Djokovic’s opponents the first set in each of his matches. After all, the slow-start Serb has lost the opening set in three of his matches at the Open and nine of his 26 Slam matches this year.

For a brief moment, Wednesday night’s quarterfinal seemed different. After all, the No. 6 seed Matteo Berrettini is not a Danish rookie, like Novak’s first-round foe, Holger Rune, or a No. 99 Californian on Ashe Stadium for the first time, like Jenson Brooksby.

Wimbledon finalist Berrettini is 6’ 5” with a broad chest that makes Stan Wawrinka’s seem slim. He rocks into his 135 mph serves with conviction. His forehand is a rifle. He should have to register that thing with some authority somewhere.

The leader of Italy’s rising insurgents doesn’t have the swagger of Fabio Fognini. But he has plenty of ‘tude.

He just doesn’t have the game of Djokovic. Who does?

Due to an incoming storm, tonight’s match was both indoors and out. Then again the Serb wins on varying continents, differing surfaces and against foes of all stripes.

Tonight, for the third time in the last three Slams, the master surgeon sliced up his foe 5-7, 6-2, 6-2, 6-4. Once again, after Djokovic’s 26th Slam win this year, Andy Roddick’s commentary on Nole comes to mind: “He takes your legs, then he takes your soul.”

To meet the destiny he craves, the Grand Slam, Djokovic has to beat Alexander Zverev and then either Felix Auger-Aliassime or the No. 2 seed, Daniil Medvedev, whom he crushed in the Australian Open.

GREAT BRIT EMMA: Proper English ladies and gentlemen don’t talk about it – but there’s an issue. British women tennis players aren’t exactly known for their mental toughness. Fragility can flare. Satirist Sue Mott brutally suggested, “Only Britons interpret the umpire’s opening word ‘Play!’ as a knell of doom…After all, the back view of receding British women with towels around their hunched shoulders is a familiar sight to regular Wimbledon watchers.”

Before this summer, Emma Raducanu was hardly a familiar sight. She was taking her finals in high school. She was ranked No. 338, but she got a wildcard into Wimbledon and made the best of it as she raced to the fourth round.

Then out of nowhere, an old bugaboo came to the fore. Playing on Court 1 and in her first Slam, she had a panic attack – she couldn’t breathe. She walked out, and the pundits pounced.

John McEnroe said Raducanu couldn’t handle the occasion. Uber critic Piers Morgan tweeted: “McEnroe told the truth. Ms. Raducanu is a talented player but couldn’t handle the pressure & quit when she was losing badly. Not ‘brave,’ just a shame.”

That tweet didn’t age well, and Morgan, who lost his job after walking out of his own show when a weatherman asked him a prickly question, was hammered for hammering an 18-year-old.

Oh, well, Raducanu received a torrent of support, handled the crisis with forthrightness and honesty and went back to work. She headed to San Jose, where she lost to No. 49, Zhang Shuai. Then she traveled to Landisville, PA and Chicago, where she reached the quarters and the finals.

In New York she battled through the US Open qualifying and promptly took full advantage of an inviting draw to become a prominent part of the sweetest story of the summer – the emergence of a trio of (Serena who? Roger who?) teens: herself, semifinalist Leylah Fernandez and Tsitsipas conqueror Carlos Alcaraz.

Amazingly, Raducanu became the first British quarterfinalist at the US Open since Jo Durie in 1983. But she hadn’t played a single seed, or a player in the top 40.

Certainly her golden run would stall when she was faced with the No. 11 seed and recently minted Olympic gold medalist, Belinda Bencic, in the quarterfinals. Raducanu quickly fell behind 3-1, but called on her athleticism, her wide serve and her crosscourt forehand to counterattack. She hit 23 winners, rode a wave of fan support, and in just 83 minutes took it to the Olympic champion to score a stunning 6-3, 6-4 win and set a slew of records. Despite being ranked just No. 150, she became the first male or female qualifier to reach the US Open semis. The Toronto-born teen, who has a Romanian father and a Chinese mother, has lost just 22 games at the Open is the youngest British woman to reach a Slam semi in 46 years and just the third woman outside the top 100 to reach the semis.

Ironically, the kid who drew headlines because of a panic attack has shown adoring fans that poise and calm are her greatest assets. She told Inside Tennis, “The calmness and the mental strength definitely comes from my upbringing. My parents both instilled that in me from a very young age…It was definitely an absolute no-go if I had any sort of bad attitude…I definitely learned that, and it’s followed me until now…You definitely need a sense of calm to get through…I knew exactly what patterns I was going to play and I was just very focused…[I] wasn’t getting ahead of myself.”

Of course, things won’t get easier for the sensational teen, whose game and appearance resembles one of her idols, Li Na. She’ll face No. 17 seed Maria Sakkari in the semis. Meanwhile, dreamers are doing all they can not to get ahead of themselves in anticipation of a magical potential final between two streaking teens, Raducanu and Canadian Leylah Fernandez.

LESS IS MORE? Broadway is still dark. In Manhattan there are fewer tourists, fewer taxis and less congestion. Assorted restaurants and hotels have closed. And at the Open, there are fewer celebrities, fewer members of the media, fewer matches on Ashe during the day, fewer superstars,  fewer behind-the-scenes meetings and conferences and no linespersons. But the Open has showcased a fresh, delightful generation and, more than anything, the raucous crowds have confirmed that we’ve come a long way since the pandemic all but completely shut down our sports-loving lives.

WHO WOULDA THUNK IT? The statue of Arthur Ashe was erected on Richmond, Virginia’s Monument Avenue amidst controversy in 1996. Who would have thought that it would outlast the statue of Robert E. Lee, that was erected in 1890 and removed Wednesday?

BEST SINCE THE BRYANS: Since Bob and Mike Bryan retired last year, have McCoco (that would be Caty McNally and Coco Gauff) replaced them as the most appealing doubles team in the world? Time and again they draw fans as tournaments wind down. Today they thrilled their backers on Louis Armstrong stadium as they downed the No. 1 seeds Elise Mertens and Hsieh Su-wei. They’ll next face No. 5 seeds Luisa Stefani and Gabriela Dabrowski in the semis.

GEN Z IS COMING: When asked about the emerging teens at the Open, Coco Gauff said, “There’s definitely a shift. I always knew it was going to come. I’m glad. I’m so happy for Leylah and Emma. I’ve known both of them for a long time…They’re both super nice girls, and I’m always cheering for them…they’re definitely playing free and they’re just happy out there…I hope we get a teenager final…It inspires me to do better and work harder…I’m always going to root for my age group just because we’re all kind of friends and are rooting for each other…This new generation, Gen Z, we’re coming and we’re coming strong.”

Coco’s doubles partner Caty McNally added, “It should just give everyone the inspiration to say, ‘Why not me?’…They’re playing so fearlessly – ‘Why not me winning it?’ They’re playing very boldly, fiercely…Keep going!…Age is just a number…It reminded me of Coco when I watched her on these big stages…how bold and fierce she was, not afraid to go for her shots, get the crowd engaged…It inspires me to go out there and work harder and say, ‘Why not me?’ As for the upcoming generation getting to the very top, Coco said, “I think every kid should believe that…Don’t let adults tell you that you can’t do it…The biggest dream crushers are sometimes parents.”

GO FIGURE: Alexander Zverev took out the South African Lloyd Harris, who beat Rafa Nadal earlier this year, to reach the semis. It was the 16th straight win for the German, who prevailed at the Olympics and in Cincinnati. In the semis he’ll face the winner of the Djokovic/Matteo Berrettini match…Nicholas Godsick, the son of former WTA No. 4 Mary Joe Fernandez and Federer’s agent Tony Godsick, is into the quarterfinals of the Boys’ doubles…New Jersey’s Samir Banjeree, the No. 2 seed in the Boys’ singles, is through to the quarterfinals…No. 17 seed Maria Sakkari, the French Open semifinalist, won 22 straight points on her serve and upset No. 4 seed Karolina Pliskova 6-4, 6-4. She’s scored three upsets over top three seeds at the Open.

QUOTEBOOK:

“She was emotional but she didn’t let go of her emotions.” – Pam Shriver on Leylah Fernandez

“There is an element of being young and free…As an underdog you swing free.” – Emma Raducanu

“We’re all different, we’re all going to have our time to shine at some point.” – Coco Gauff on tennis’ new young stars

“It’s the kind of match that will get the attention of the locker room.” – Cliff Drysdale on Maria Sakkari

“Even when Pliskova cares about the match, she seems to not be caring. It’s the quarterfinals, get fired up.” – Pam Shriver

“Overcoming the pain is part of the game.” – Novak Djokovic

FRANCES TIAFOE ON WHAT REALLY MATTERS: “When I’m out there playing, I feel it’s bigger than a tennis match…It got me super emotional, I almost cried walking off court…It’s just the amount of love they showed me…Into the breaker, I had four kids saying, ‘Whatever happens, you’re my inspiration.’ Like, that’s what it’s about…That’s the shit that matters. That’s why I wake up every day and I go crazy. I do all that, because a little kid is going to remember that. Parents are paying their hard-earned money to put their kids in seats and watch it. I just want to put on a show. Don’t get that twisted, as if I’m just out here trying to be an entertainer. I want to win just as bad as the next person…I want to have fun and I want everybody in the crowd to enjoy those three hours, four hours, however long I’m out there, as well.”

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