Wimbledon 2021: The A-level student delivers grade-A tennis to become Wimbledon's new darling

Just before 1pm, Wimbledon about to begin, Emma Raducanu could have been any other 18-year-old texting a girlfriend on a phone housed in a bright pink case.
First time on Centre Court, Emma Raducanu leaves it as the bright new star of British tennisFirst time on Centre Court, Emma Raducanu leaves it as the bright new star of British tennis
First time on Centre Court, Emma Raducanu leaves it as the bright new star of British tennis

But, rather than staking out Henman Hill for a good vantage point as a fan, she was bouncing up and down in the clubhouse and about to walk onto No 1 Court to be acclaimed as the sensational new darling of SW19.

Raducanu, the A-level student, produced grade-A tennis to beat Romania’s Sorana Cirstea 6-3, 7-5 and become the open era’s youngest British woman to claim a place in the last 16. It was a performance full of exuberance and beaming smiles from the Londoner, but also fearless shot-making and calmness at the vital moments.

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Afterwards, she said she couldn’t put her emotions into words. But quickly she found some: “Crazy … such a buzz … a blast … such a high.” That phone of hers had been pinging non-stop before the match with good luck messages from school-friends and teachers. And now? “I’ve handed it to my osteo,” she said, doubtless fearing it might explode.

Raducanu had played with such confidence - where had that come from?

“I just thought: ‘I’m going to enjoy this.’ If I can’t enjoy Court No 1 at Wimbledon, a home crowd, what am I going to enjoy? This is the cherry at the top of tennis.

“I came here the day before and they let me sit courtside. That gave me a feel for the place. Come the match I just decided I was going to have fun. I think I did. The first time I heard the crowd roar it was amazing. Some of the points … I’ve never played such good tennis.”

Her winners, including a number of crosscourters taken on the run with little grass at which to aim, were astonishing - where had they come from? “I couldn’t believe some of them myself. if you ask my team I think they’d say: ‘She doesn’t run for balls.’ I think if you’re playing No 1 Court you’re definitely inspired. That’s probably the first time I enjoyed chasing balls.”

Ranked 338th in the world before the championships, Raducanu has one of those multi-facteted backstories which seems typical of her sport, being the Canadian-born daughter of a Romanian father and a Chinese mother who moved to England when she was two. Shy as a child, her parents provided her with a diverse skill-set to bring her out of herself, including ballet, motocross and horseriding. British tennis, gasping for a women’s champ since Virginia Wade, must be delighted she opted to pursue tennis alongside her studies in mathematics and economics.

The maths of this match were that her opponent grabbed the first break but that Raducanu then set off on an eight-game winning streak which secured her the first set and in the second had her standing at 3-0 with three break points on Cirstea’s serve.

At that moment did Raducanu blink? Perhaps, but after the eighth game when she passed up five opportunities to break, the shots got more adventurous, the smiles got wider - and the roar of the crowd became deafening.

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Next up, Monday’s fourth round, maybe Centre Court this time … and another cherry.

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