NEW YORK — It’s stunning enough that Emma Raducanu, an 18-year-old who was practically unknown in her home country of Great Britain just a few months ago much less the wider tennis world, is in the U.S. Open final.
But the way she’s done it is almost indescribable and unexplainable. Can it possibly be as easy as it looks?
In yet another full-scale destruction of an established veteran of the women’s tennis tour, Raducanu’s first trip to a Grand Slam semifinal was as drama-free as the rest of her matches over the last few weeks, beating No. 17 Maria Sakkari 6-1, 6-4 in just 84 minutes.
“I honestly just can’t believe it,” Raducanu said. “A shock. Like, crazy, all of the above. But it means a lot to be here in this situation. I wanted to be playing Grand Slams, but didn’t know how soon that would be. And to be in a Grand Slam final at this stage of my career, I have no words.”
After fending off seven break points in her first two service games, Raducanu simply steamrolled Sakkari as she has done to every opponent in her path so far in New York. Nothing Sakkari tried came close to working, as she made just 52 percent of her first serves and had 33 unforced errors to Raducanu’s 17.
“I couldn’t make many balls, I gave her so many chances, and I didn’t even like push her with my game,” Sakkari said. “She found everything pretty easy from my side, but credit to her. She took her chances.”
Raducanu, who had to win three matches in qualifying just to get into the main draw here, has now won 18 straight sets with her opponents winning two or fewer games in 10 of them.
And to say nobody saw it coming would be an understatement.
STUNNER: Leylah Fernandez knocks off Aryna Sabalenka in three sets
Though her career on the lower-level tours had gotten off to a promising start prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Raducanu was a complete unknown when she received a wild card into this year’s Wimbledon. By the time her tournament was over in the round of 16, she had become a British sensation, launching her toward the U.S. hardcourt swing with doors of opportunity open to her.
And now she’s just bulldozing through them as the first qualifier in history — male or female — to reach a Grand Slam final.
“Leading up to the U.S. Open, I had a lot of matches coming in, so I think I was building with each match,” Raducanu said. “I wasn’t really sure how my level was going to be, but it’s surprised me in the way I’ve managed to step up against the best players in the world. I personally think inside I knew I had some sort of level inside me that was similar to these girls, but I didn’t know if I could maintain it over a set or two sets. To do it and play the best in the world and beat them, I can’t believe it.”
On Saturday, Raducan will face 19-year-old Leylah Fernandez, making it the first all-teenage Grand Slam final since the 1999 U.S. Open (Serena Williams vs. Martina Hingis).
Regardless of who wins, it will be the third unseeded champion in U.S. Open history, joining Kim Clijsters in 2009 and Sloane Stephens in 2017. But never in the history of any Grand Slam have two unseeded women met for the title.
For the 150th-ranked player in the world to put on a performance like this over two weeks is truly something that’s never happened before in tennis history. The fact that she’ll face Fernandez, who came in ranked 73rd, only makes it more bizarre — and special.
Follow Dan Wolken on Twitter @DanWolken
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: US Open: Emma Raducanu downs Maria Sakkari, sets up all-teenage final