Emma Raducanu, the British teenage tennis sensation, did not expect to play in the US Open this year.
The 18-year-old booked flights back from New York two weeks ago at the end of the qualifying round, assuming she did not advance to the main stage of the Grand Slam tournament. Her travel plans have been drastically changed by an unprecedented run-up to Saturday’s women’s final.
Back in the UK, fans started sitting up straight, and free-to-air broadcaster Channel 4 made a last-minute deal to share the live coverage of the final with Amazon Prime Video.
“We’re glad we worked with Prime Video and put everything into the bag to get it on the air, and I’m sure viewers will be excited about the prospect of seeing Emma in this Grand Slam final.” , said Channel 4’s chief content officer. Ian Katz.
“The time here in New York has passed so quickly,” Raducanu said in a live battle on Thursday night after her semi-final victory over Maria Sakkari, the 17th seed of Greece. “I just took care of it every day, and before you know it, three weeks later, I’m in the final and I can not really believe it.”
No player, male or female, has previously come through the heats to reach the finals of a grand slam, the four annual competitions that are considered the pinnacle of tennis. She was 150th in the world before the tournament, and she is within reach to become the first British woman to win a major tournament since Virginia Wade won Wimbledon in 1977.
But between her and the trophy stands Canada’s Leylah Fernandez, another surprise package for teens looking to win her first Grand Slam. Before the tournament, Fernandez, who had an even harder run after the final, was in 73rd place in the world.
All her interviews after the match show Raducanu, who has yet to lose a set at the US Open just enjoy her continued stay. But executives in the sports industry have said her actions envisage her becoming one of the most marketable figures in British sport.
Sustained success throughout her career could transform her into an international superstar, along with tennis champions such as Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka, which is among the highest earning female athletes in all sports.
“All the ingredients are there to become the dominant British sportswoman of her era,” said Tim Crow, an independent sports marketing expert.
Raducanu’s shot at sports glory and its attendant wealth already represents a remarkable rise. She was born in Canada as a Romanian father and a Chinese mother, and arrived in the UK at the age of 2 when her parents moved to Bromley, south-east London.
Earlier this year, she completed her A-levels before playing at Wimbledon, her only previous experience in a grand slam tournament. There she becomes the youngest British woman to reach the last 16 before she was forced to retire during her match due to apparent breathing problems.
Raducanu is a product of the Lawn Tennis Association’s talent development scheme launched in 2018, aimed at 16 to 24 year olds. The UK’s governing body’s pro-bursary program is intended to consistently produce players who can challenge for the best prizes in the sport.
This is in stark contrast to former men’s world number one Andy Murray, the last British player to win the US Open, who left his native Scotland at the age of 15 for private coaching in Spain.
Iain Bates, head of women’s tennis at the LTA, said that despite the rapid rise of Raducanu, it was too early to declare the new scholarships a success.
“We played six girls here, five of whom are on our pro scholarship program,” he said from New York. ‘My job needs to be done to move the group of five, of which Emma was one, to the top 100 [ranked players in the world]. This is when I think we’re starting to get signs of progress. ”
But Bates added that Raducanu would inspire her peers: ‘She learns so fast, she adapts so quickly to the speed of the game, and she can increase her level very quickly. It shows what is possible, and it gives the energy and faith to others that they too can continue to push themselves to achieve higher things. ”
In Fernandez, she faces another surprise finalist. The Canadian, who turned 19 on Monday, followed up a shock defeat to defending champion Osaka in the third round with victories over former number one Angelique Kerber and US Open second-seeded Aryna Sabalenka.
Raducanu will definitely add the prize money of more than $ 300,000 she has earned so far in her short career. The winner of the US Open will take home $ 2.5 million, and the runner-up $ 1.25 million.
Raducanu’s only sponsors are sportswear group Nike and racket makers Wilson. Others will definitely seek an association with one of the best prospects of the sport.
‘Just by renewing its existing transactions, Raducanu can expect to generate more than $ 1 million in revenue. . . while other brands will no doubt look to Raducanu as a potential brand ambassador, ‘said Conrad Wiacek, head of sports analysis at GlobalData, a research group. “[She] has possibly become the face of British tennis in the foreseeable future. ”
While others think about how to make money for her success, Raducanu himself expressed his shock at how far she has come in court in a short time.
“Of course I wanted to play Grand Slams, but I did not know how soon it would be,” she said after her semi-final. “To be in a Grand Slam final at this stage of my career, I have no words.”
Additional reporting by Murad Ahmed in London and Sara Germano in New York