Those toilet jokes seem a long time ago.
When Andy Murray unravelled amid Stefanos Tsitsipas' dark arts on the opening day at the US Open, the scene was set for another not so Grand Slam for not so Great Britain. By the time the 2012 champion had finished censuring the Greek third seed in the press, four other Brits had already bowed out - leaving just three in the main draw. Katie Boulter swiftly followed and, while Dan Evans flirted with the second week, he too fell short as men's second seed Daniil Medvedev proved too good. There was only one name left.
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Emma Raducanu had seen off the world numbers 128, 49 and 41 - Stefanie Voegele, Zhang Shuai and Sara Sorribes Tormo - but she was off the outside courts now. Shelby Rogers' world ranking of 43 might not have been intimidating in isolation, but the American would be backed by a raucous Arthur Ashe Stadium after deposing world number one Ash Barty in the previous round. No, this was where Raducanu's glorious summer would end.
Or so it first appeared. Rogers settled quickly, racing into a 2-0 lead and holding 15-40 on the Raducanu serve. We waited for the 18-year-old to crack, just as she had at Wimbledon two months prior when breathing difficulties halted her charge in the fourth round.
Eleven games later and Raducanu had won them all. She had blown apart a player many were pencilling in as a title contender - and not only that, the crowd had abandoned their own and adopted the teenager from Bromley into their tribe. But still? She hadn't faced a seed at either SW19 or Flushing Meadows. It was a nice story, a welcome tonic to the Murray or Nothing narrative, but little more.
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Belinda Bencic, the 11th seed, was next in the quarter-finals. The Swiss touched down in New York as the tour's form player, a gold medal from Tokyo teeing her up to make an overdue charge at a Slam. Bencic too soared into a 2-0 lead as Raducanu laboured through the early moments. Then came the familiar momentum shift, Raducanu turning 1-3 into 6-3 as her mesmeric backhand chiselled away for the impossible dream. Soon, Bencic had imploded and the last four beckoned.
Maria Sakkari was the next obstacle and with it came a new problem: 'Can Raducanu do it under the lights?'. By this stage, we had an idea what the answer might be and when the Briton swept to a ninth consecutive straight sets victory, Canada's Leylah Fernandez was all that stood between her and a trophy that had eluded British women for 52 years.
If Raducanu had taken the express train into the final at Flushing Meadows, then Fernandez had lugged an 80-litre backpack the whole way on foot. She fought back from a set down to oust defending champion Naomi Osaka and then 2016 champion Angelique Kerber, briefly celebrated her 19th birthday, and then saw off fifth seed Elina Svitolina and second seed Aryna Sabalenka in momentum-shifting three-set classics.
It led to the unusual situation of Raducanu arriving fresher into the final, having spent an hour and 11 minutes less on court - despite playing three more matches. Not that it appeared to affect Fernandez, who dragged her body through the opening exchanges and came the closest yet to nullifying the Raducanu attack.
And so the final questions were asked of Raducanu in New York, falling one after the other as Britain waited to crown their greatest underdog in history. Could she take down a leftie? What about a crowd rooting for her rival? Would she recover from blowing two championship points and serve it out? And could she, in surely a major final first, handle a medical timeout at 30-40 on her own serve, all while her opponent was chuntering to the umpire within earshot?
Each was swatted away with aplomb as Raducanu's victory trampled over the record books. The first qualifier ever to win a Grand Slam: check. The first British woman to win a major since Virginia Wade in 1977: check. The youngest woman to win a Slam since 17-year-old Maria Sharapova won Wimbledon in 2004: check. And all without dropping a set in 10 matches. Tennis, perhaps sport, has not known a story like it.
Emma Raducanu - US Open 2021
Image credit: Getty Images
The US Open was billed as the final chapter in the sport's greatest rivalry, one that could see Novak Djokovic surpass Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal in winning a 21st Grand Slam - a title that would also land him a sweep of majors in 2021. But the Serb's story has sunk further into the shadows as the sporting world turned its attention to the teenage superheroes in the women's draw.
In Djokovic, we get a glimpse of why Raducanu is so unstoppable. Eurosport's very own Mats Wilander has already hyped the "many similarities" between them and it's hard to disagree.
A faultless backhand, lightning court speed, and an ability to return the biggest serves and groundstrokes - encouraging opponents to go bigger, and invariably miss. Perhaps most striking of all is their shared capacity for having blips at the start of sets - not at the end.
You don't have to flick back far to find women who have won a Slam and then faded. Jelena Ostapenko and Bianca Andreescu have struggled since blowing away their respective fields at the 2017 French Open and 2019 US Open. But while their all-out-attack brand of tennis has little margin for error, making it very easy for it all to go wrong, Raducanu's play is more layered. She has the all-round game to suggest her rise to the top can be sustained.
Whether she finishes her career with one Slam or 10, she has provided a blueprint that more experienced players would be wise to follow: stay calm, back yourself, go for your shots. And as one British legend drifts through the twilight of his career having carried the sport on his back for over a decade, the perfect heir to his tennis throne has made herself known.
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Australian Open men
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