Tuesday, May 17

‘Off the Charts’: New York Tennis Fans Spellbound by Raducanu’s Fairy Tale | 2021 US Tennis Open

SUBWAYIt had been more than three hours since Emma Raducanu uncorked a 108 mph ace at match point to finish off Canadian teenager Leylah Fernandez and win the most unlikely US Open championship on record. The sun had long since set over the west end of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center and nearly all of the 23,703 spectators who had packed Arthur Ashe Stadium to the corners had scattered.

However, several dozen fans remained outside the closed media garden under the court of the tournament’s main stadium late Saturday night in hopes of catching a glimpse of the sport’s newest star: the 18-year-old from Kent who became the first classified to reach a grand final. let alone win one, many of them are still excited after witnessing an achievement that defies comparison. One that in the dizzying aftermath didn’t even seem real.

“[We’re] absolutely made up, because Britain has had a bad streak of not winning a lot of sporting events, “said Helen Bennett, who watched Saturday’s final from Section 332 in Ashe’s top bowl with her husband, Dave, and their two children Sophie. , nine years old. and Luis, seven. “We all had our hopes built and we were victorious.”

Bennett, who has lived in nearby Jersey City for the past three years, said Raducanu gives his daughter a hero to look up to while offering her a respite from more familiar sporting disappointments.

“It is so good to see a British athlete win something,” he said. “I was very euphoric, very happy, I’m surprised that I still have a voice.”

Michael Appleton-Webster, who moved from London to Connecticut in 1999, joined in the euphoria. He described himself as still dumbfounded hours after Raducanu lifted the trophy, calling his unprecedented three-week journey from qualifying to the US Open champion as “surreal” and a “magnificent achievement.”

Fans hold flags during the final.
Fans hold flags during the final. Photograph: Frank Franklin II / AP

“I can’t believe what I’ve just seen in these last two weeks,” he said. “I wish there had been two winners tonight. Amazing. I was standing with some Brits [in the upper deck] And we just said at the end: ‘Can you believe it?’

“I have been fortunate to attend many important things. I’ve been to a World Cup final, an FA Cup final. I went to the Tottenham 81 Cup final when Ricky [Villa] scored in our final. That was out of the ordinary. But this was historic. It is at least even with everything I have experienced. I went to the 2006 World Cup final in Germany and it was an incredible match, but this is more special because it is from a British player. That’s our girl. “

The overwhelmingly positive reaction to Raducanu’s surprise title wasn’t limited to the expat crowd. Many American fans have been drawn to the precocious British teenager, certainly at a US Open where no man or woman from the United States reached the quarterfinals for the first time in the tournament’s 140-year history.

Grace Ma and Francis Leung, a married Chinese-American couple from midtown Manhattan who sat on the bottom plate for Saturday’s game, fell so in love with Raducanu during the course of the tournament that they carried a Union Jack flag to the stadium and unfurled it. in celebration immediately after match point.

“I ordered it on Thursday night after the semifinal and it came today,” Ma said. “And I couldn’t leave the house today until it came.”

Ma and Leung attended this year’s Open for three days before the final and Raducanu quickly won them, on and off the court. “He hasn’t lost a set in the entire US Open, including qualifiers!” Mom said. “She was so consistent, she has so much power, she is so calm and mature for her age. He hasn’t even played that many games professionally in his career, which is crazy. And we were here for the semi-finals and she was so sweet to the younger fans afterward. “

Emma Raducanu on the court after winning match point.
Emma Raducanu on the court after winning match point. Photograph: Elsa / Getty Images

Ma was equally impressed by Fernandez, the naive Canadian whose runner-up in her seventh appearance at a major tournament included victories over Naomi Osaka, Angelique Kerber, Elina Svitolina and Aryna Sabalenka – two Grand Slam winners and three top-five players in the world. . That both Raducanu and Fernández are the children of immigrants, Ma said, only adds to their appeal.

“Regardless of who won tonight, it was a victory for women’s tennis,” she said. “I think it’s amazing that they are so diverse, just the backgrounds of both players. I’m Asian, I’m Chinese, so to be able to watch someone of my ethnicity play, I think it inspires a lot of people. The future of tennis is really bright and I think it gives people a lot of hope. “

That sense of inspiration was shared by Beverly Joel, a Brooklyn-based graphic designer. He first became aware of Raducanu during his surprise run into the second week of Wimbledon and hoped to see her perhaps at the US Open, which he attends every year.

“The work was crazy so I didn’t go through the playoffs and it wasn’t until the tournament started that I really realized it,” Joel said. “Today was the first time I saw her in person. It seemed that Fernández had been the person who had received much more media love here, obviously. And he seemed better under pressure for the most part. But seeing Raducanu, there was never any pressure to worry about. “

“It is also great to see two young players who are still not afraid. Next year will be more difficult, but this tournament is nothing but hunger and potential. “

Just minutes after 10 p.m. Saturday night, the lively group of fans who had stayed on the ground were rewarded for their patience when Raducanu, who was not near the end of his media responsibilities, paused briefly to thank you for your support while showing. of his new trophy.

For nine-year-old Sophie, the chance to see her new hero a few feet away was worth the wait. “I love Emma,” he said. “I think he is brave, bright and strong.”


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