What Emma Raducanu Means for a More Complex Britain
What Emma Raducanu Means for a More Complex Britain
LONDON: At long last, Britain received the national jubilation it craved this summer, not from a men’s soccer team that came close to sports immortality, but from a young woman with a radiant smile, Emma Raducanu, who stormed from obscurity to win the U.S. Open tennis title on Saturday.
Ms. Raducanu’s straight-set victory over Leylah Fernandez, a 19-year-old Canadian, drew raucous applause from crowds gathered to watch the match at pubs in her hometown of Bromley and at the nearby tennis club that launched her on an unlikely path to Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York City.
“The atmosphere is electric,” said Dave Cooke, manager of The Parklangley Club, where Ms. Raducanu trained for several years, beginning when she was six years old. Members were overjoyed the day after her victory, recalling how she returned for a practice session after competing at Wimbledon.
“Just watching her train was phenomenal,” said Julie Slatter, 54, a member. “You just know she’s going to go the distance.”
Queen Elizabeth wasted no time congratulating the new champion on “a remarkable achievement at such a young age,” which she called a “testament to your hard work and dedication.” Ms. Raducanu, who appeared slightly dazzled, stated, “I’m thinking about framing that letter or something.”
Her victory made history in several ways: she was the first player to win a Grand Slam title in the qualifying rounds, and she was the first British woman to win a Grand Slam singles title since Virginia Wade won Wimbledon in 1977. Ms. Wade applauded Ms. Raducanu from the gallery, as did Billie Jean King on the winner’s podium — two champions crowning a new one, perhaps heralding a glitzy new era for British tennis.
Ms. Raducanu’s victory was also a kind of redemption for long-suffering British sports fans following England’s heartbreaking defeat in the finals of the European Championships in July. England narrowly lost that game after missing three penalty kicks in the deciding shootout against Italy.
Ms. Raducanu, on the other hand, did not let a cut on her leg from a fall late in the match stop her from defeating Ms. Fernandez, 6-4, 6-3, finishing with an ace before falling to the court in joyous celebration. Ms. Raducanu’s need for a timeout to have her leg bandaged was one of the few anxious moments in a tournament in which she did not lose a single set.
Ms. Raducanu, like the national soccer team, embodies the exuberant diversity of British society. Her victory is a tacit rejection of the anti-immigrant fervor that fueled the Brexit vote in 2016, as well as a reminder that, whatever its politics, today’s polyglot Britain is a more complicated and interesting place.
Ms. Raducanu, the daughter of a Romanian father and a Chinese mother, was born in Toronto in 2002. Her family relocated to England when she was two years old, settling in Bromley, a London borough known for its leafy parks and good schools. Ms. Raducanu, a serious student, has taken time off from her professional tour to study for exams, praising her mother for keeping her focused on academics.
“She got where she is because she is a nice person who worked hard and strived to achieve her goals,” Mr. Cooke said.
Despite describing Ms. Raducanu as part of a generation of younger athletes who have remained grounded and mentally strong, he stated that the Grand Slam title would place new pressures on her.
“When you accomplish something great, you raise your own bar,” he explained. “We need to relieve her of those pressures.”
Ms. Raducanu first gained national attention in June, when she advanced to the fourth round of Wimbledon before withdrawing due to breathing difficulties.
That setback prompted some commentators, including John McEnroe, to question her mental fitness, particularly at a time when another female star, Naomi Osaka, has spoken openly about her struggles with the game’s pressures. Ms. Raducanu, on the other hand, silenced her detractors in Flushing Meadows. She appeared to be in good shape, poised, and unflappable.
Her performance moved people from all walks of life in the United Kingdom. Girls in her old club talked about bumping into Ms. Raducanu in the school hallways or at local restaurants. Some expressed their desire to follow in her footsteps.
“We want to go into tennis,” said Yuti Kumar, 14, who attends the same school as Ms. Raducanu, Newstead Wood School, whose alumni include actress Gemma Chan and Olympic sprinter Dina Asher-Smith.
Stephen Fry, the actor, waxed philosophical on Twitter, saying, “Yes, it may be ‘only’ sport, but in that ‘only’ there can be found so much of human joy, despair, glory, disappointment, wonder, and hope.” In a dark world, a brief flash of light.”
The Spice Girls kept things as simple as possible. The group tweeted, “@EmmaRaducanu that’s Girl Power right there!!”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Prince Charles, Prince William, and the Manchester United soccer team all congratulated him, as did Nigel Farage, the right-wing Brexit leader, who tweeted, “a global megastar is born.”
Mr. Farage once stated that he would not be comfortable living next to a Romanian, according to David Lammy, a Black Labour Party member of Parliament (Mr. Farage later expressed regret for the remark). “You have no right to ride on her incredible success,” Mr. Lammy tweeted.
The squabble echoed one earlier this summer, when Mr. Lammy chastised Conservative Party members for jumping on the bandwagon of the English soccer team after it began winning, despite previously criticizing its players for kneeling before games to protest racial and social injustice.
On Sunday, however, the spotlight was on a local hero. Many predicted that her success would spark a surge in interest in tennis – and other ambitions – among young people who had struggled to find motivation during the pandemic.
“She’s a schoolgirl from Bromley,” Jennifer Taylor, 40, said as she sat outside a pub. “I’m sure if she comes to Bromley, she’ll be warmly welcomed.”
Ms. Raducanu alluded to Britain’s eventful sports summer, in which millions of fans, including herself, began chanting the England team’s theme, “Football’s coming home,” as she prepared to return home.
She captioned a photo of herself waving a Union Jack and holding the silver cup of the Open champion, “We are taking her HOMEEE.”