Anatomy of a tennis sensation: Emma Raducanu’s run to final is no fluke

Maria Sakkari, one of the best servers in the world, reached the semi-final with a supreme serving performance against Karolina Pliskova, the world No 4. Two days later, that same serve was eviscerated by Raducanu, who constantly looks to hit her return early. Her ability to put immense pressure on the server by deflecting first serves with relentless depth and attacking sub-standard second serves has been one of the defining factors of her success. It has allowed her to immediately recover after poor starts and it gives her a say in every return game.

Raducanu’s serve is not as supreme as her return, but in New York it has been precise, reliable and clutch. Against Belinda Bencic and Sakkari, two players who favour their backhands, her favoured slice serve out wide from the deuce court has been extremely effective, as it will be in the final against Leylah Fernandez, a lefty. Throughout the past three weeks Raducanu has embarked on numerous consecutive game streaks which have been helped by her ability to produce timely free points on serve and slam service games shut. Her second serve, once a source of frustration, has increased in pace and topspin. In the two biggest matches of her career, she boldly averaged over 90mph on her second delivery.

Throughout the tournament, the majority of Raducanu’s opponents have attempted to break down her forehand. While it has sometimes been her more problematic stroke, it has held up incredibly well in New York and she has constantly looked to control points with it. Her ability to redirect pace off that wing is solid and it produces notably more spin, allowing her the option of disrupting opponents with loopier balls to complement her sharp, early ball striking.

Her backhand is the other crowning jewel of her game. Her ability to step inside the court and rob time from her opponents by taking the ball early is already elite. Likewise, her natural timing and hand skills mean that her down-the-line backhand has consistently torn opponents’ defences apart over the summer and she is equally adept at creating width by rolling it crosscourt. Her backhand is potent in attack but also extremely consistent and strong on both return and defence.

If her game has a flaw, it is her inexperience in the forecourt. As stressed on Thursday by none other than Martina Navratilova, her volleys are technically sound but she is far more comfortable trading with opponents from the baseline. Likewise, backhand slices and drop shots are rare. Implementing more variety into her game will be a point of evolution as her game progresses.

After her quarter-final win over Bencic, Raducanu admitted that she was surprised by her movement and just how many balls she has been able to track down. She is a great athlete, and throughout the week, as the quality of opposition has risen, her defence has become increasingly pivotal. After trailing Bencic early on, she stepped further behind the baseline and soon realised that her movement offered her many more options and allowed her to be patient. Her ability to flip points from defence to attack has also visibly improved as the tournament has gone on.

The same can be said for her physical robustness, which was once a constant source of frustration and she has had frequent niggles. Raducanu has now played nine matches in three weeks and 19 since the start of August, yet she looks as fresh as ever.

Most players, particularly at 18, normally have at least one clear weakness that opponents can exploit. Perhaps her greatest strength is how all of the assets combine to make such a well-rounded game with no real holes. Along with the sturdiness of her game’s foundations, Raducanu is extremely intelligent and she has shown great tactical flexibility during matches.

Having played so few matches at the top level, her run has required her to constantly adapt to new situations, which she has continually proved adept at. Allied with her intelligence is, of course, the mental strength and composure that has allowed her to meet every moment so far and play her best tennis under the highest pressure. She will attempt to utilise it again in her first grand slam final.

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