As Emma Raducanu knelt against the grass and tossed her racquet aside in ecstasy, the loudest cheer erupted on Wimbledon’s fourth day. The British 18-year-old, who received a wildcard into the women’s singles draw, is currently ranked No 338 in the world and has played a scarce number of competitive matches due to the pandemic, but has embarked on one of the tournament’s most unlikely storylines, with a gutsy and, perhaps, generation-marking victory against Markéta Vondroušová.
Raducanu, who is also a meticulous student and said she “won’t accept anything less than an A star” in her A-Levels, was already the last Briton remaining in the women’s singles draw after thrashing Vitalia Diatchenko on Wednesday, but this win represents an altogether more seismic shock. Beyond her obvious talent, which has long been hailed by those at the LTA and earned her a surprise Fed Cup call-up early this year, what was most remarkable about the teenager’s performance was her composure under pressure, ignoring the temptation to chase the spectacular, instead driving her opponent into submission with a combination of punishing groundstrokes and stubborn resolve, particularly when the momentum turned against her and she fell behind in the second set.
“I had never played that many tournaments I think throughout the years because of various reasons, injuries, school, niggles,” she said afterwards. “I didn’t compete that much, but still I managed to maintained a pretty good ranking.
“I kept that belief that once I had the opportunity to go out and play, given such an opportunity to play at The Championships, I had that intrinsic belief I could do it. I would hit with these players, like last week. It’s been so great for me to see how they train, will to try to compare myself a little bit in the regards like what can they do that I can’t. It’s just been great to see where I stand with my level.”
If there were any doubts over Raducanu’s ability to rise to the occasion, having admitted she was riddled with nerves ahead of her first-round match, they were soon extinguished emphatically on Court Twelve. She won five of the first six games, her groundstrokes buffeting Vondrousova from side-to-side, with the Czech world No 41 a virtual passenger of the early storm, offering only infuriated and stunned shakes of the head.
If the break between sets offered Vondrousova time to regather her composure, perhaps, it also allowed room for doubts to emerge in Raducanu’s mind as the true scale of her feat came into view. Vondrousova raced into a 3-0 lead and had seemed to finally adjust to Raducanu’s shotmaking, only for the Briton to rally spectacularly, seizing on the crowd’s encouragement and unleashing another barrage for which her opponent had no response.
“I think playing in front of a home crowd definitely helps,” she said. “I mean, their support is so loud and they’re so behind me. I’m really grateful. I’ve definitely got that in the back of my mind. Also I was just thinking, you know, to play every point like it was my last point, like it was match point, it was my last point here at Wimbledon.”
Of course, that is now far from the case. Raducanu will face Sorana Cîrstea, the world No 45 from Romania, in the third round for another feast of pride, prize money and ranking points. Regardless of the outcome of that match, spotlights born within Wimbledon’s grounds don’t tend to fade quickly, and if the whispers are to be believed, this should only be the first breakthrough of a career that regularly captures the imagination of the British public for years to come. It is no teenage fairy tale but a hardened reality with reams to run.