On her third match point, as Sorana Cirstea remonstrated with the umpire, Emma Raducanu bounced on the baseline as though she were shadowboxing, visualising the most important shot of her career, until the crowd on Court One erupted into a standing ovation. Without hesitation, the 18-year-old British wildcard broke into a huge grin and did a small piroutte, soaking in all four corners of the arena. Just a few seconds later, the rising star of British tennis exploded into one last firework of a forehand and completed a victory that will shine a light long into Wimbledon’s night.
In stunning French Open finalist Marketa Vondrousova in the second-round, Raducanu had already defied all logic and even the lofty predictions of her own coach, who claimed the “sky is the limit” for the teenager this week. But as the crowd howled in delight, those heights felt in unmistakably close reach. After Andy Murray fell last night, this irrepressible performance was delivered with a sense of destiny as Raducanu, who is still waiting for her A-Level results, handled the spotlight with aplomb, harnessed the crowd’s frenzy and produced an exhibition of breathtaking tennis for which the world No 45 simply had no answer.
Much will be made of the prize money she has earned, but this should be remembered as a match that punctuated history and, perhaps, marked a new era for British tennis. Armed with a near-faultless technique and extraordinary sense of maturity, there was not a hint of fluster as Raducanu entered a cauldron unlike anything she’s ever known. As if on cue, the rain paused overhead, the clouds parted with reverence and Raducanu beamed the first of many smiles.
Thrust into such an unforgiving spotlight, the fearlessness of youth triumphed trounced any niggling doubts and, for whatever Raducanu lacks in experience, she compensated with power and unfazed aggression, the adrenaline seeping into a series of flat blackheads in the opening game that rocked Cirstea back onto her heels. Not content to feel her way into the match, Raducanu then thrashed at Cirstea’s weak second serve, shredding a forehand like a guillotine through felt. And although Cirstea managed to hold, a tide of momentum was already crashing overhead, and it would not break until the Briton dropped her racquet in celebration.
If there were a few flickering nerves, they only emerged in Raducanu’s second service game, when a double fault brought the first test of pressure. She answered the call emphatically with an ace, but soon afterwards a punching backhand ensured Cirstea of first blood in the match. But while the reality of her task was now clear, Raducanu did not lick her wounds or sink an inch into her shell. Drawing on all her youthful energy, she scampered across the baseline and skewed a brilliant backhand down the line to immediately put the match back on serve.
From there on, the first set seemed to bend to her every will. Whenever a point felt lost, Raducanu conjured returns from nowhere, contorting her body into the grass, refusing to give up on every dying breath as she broke Cirstea’s resistance. All smiles on the surface, there is clearly a fierce and relentless competitive drive that is the foundation of Rudacanu’s power-hitting and, after driving a passing shot straight at her opponent, a raised racquet in apology did little to conceal her satisfaction. Any murmurings of stage fright long silenced, she closed out the first set to a raucous cheer.
For a while, Raducanu even threatened to reduced the match to a procession in the second, racing into a 3-0 lead with a fourth consecutive break of Cirstea’s serve. But when another double fault wrecked the premature celebrations and offered Cirstea a route back into the match, Raducanu showed no signs of frustration, her mistake instead lighting an even great fire, with energy and ethusiasm to burn in equal measure.
A titanic 15-minute game at 5-4 swayed back-and-forth and was marked by a standalone highlight reel of Raducanu’s blistering groundstrokes, yet still the final breakthrough wouldn’t come. But when a searing forehand passing shot was followed by an emphatic drive volley at 6-5, Cirstea succumbed in the face of an unstoppable force. Once the final blitz landed, Raducanu fell to the turf in delight, but not disbelief. The 18-year-old may be a star of the future, and for Britain perhaps even the ages, but she is taking the present in her stride.
Source: Read Full Article