The stunning run by 18-year-old Emma Raducanu of Great Britain continued Wednesday in New York, as she became the first qualifier to make the US Open semifinals in the Open Era by dispatching Olympic gold medalist and No.11 seed Belinda Bencic 6-3, 6-4.
Just two months after her breakthrough run to the round of 16 in her Grand Slam main-draw debut on home soil at Wimbledon, the World No.150 Raducanu is now into the final four of a major in just her second appearance.
Teenagers will now feature in both of Thursday’s semifinals: Leylah Fernandez of Canada, who turned 19 on Monday, also won her quarterfinal and will face No.2 seed Aryna Sabalenka in the bottom half of the draw.
Setting records: Raducanu is the fourth women’s qualifier to reach the semifinals of a Grand Slam event in the Open Era (since 1968). There is now one instance of that occurring at each of the four majors. She joins Christine Dorey (1978 Australian Open), Alexandra Stevenson (1999 Wimbledon) and Nadia Podoroska (2020 Roland Garros).
She is also just the third woman ranked outside the Top 100 to make it into the US Open semifinals, joining WTA Legends Billie Jean King in 1979 and Kim Clijsters in 2009. Both King and Clijsters were unranked in those instances; Clijsters went on to win the title.
Raducanu’s win is even more stunning when you consider her tilt against World No.12 Bencic was her first match against any player ranked inside the Top 40, let alone the Top 20.
But in only 81 minutes of play, Raducanu charged past the Olympic champion, improving to 6-0 against players ranked inside the Top 50. (Raducanu has won five matches this summer against players ranked between 41 and 50, including three in a row to get into the quarterfinals this fortnight.)
Emma's thoughts: "I'm so pleased to have come through that," Raducanu told the press, after her win. "Belinda is such a great opponent and she's an Olympic gold medalist, which is probably one of the biggest events in sport.
"She's a great player, and I knew it's going to be an extremely difficult match. It took me some adjusting at the beginning to get used to her ball speed, yeah, how aggressive she was. Once I adjusted, I settled in. I didn't overpress as much. I found a way to win, but it was very difficult to play against someone at such a high level.
"Let's say I have a hunger to win every single match I play, so I don't want to get ahead of myself at all, because I just like to take it one day at a time. If I take care of what I can control, then that's going to give me the best chance.
"Until now, I think it's worked very well for me not getting ahead of myself, just focusing on one point at a time. It's got me to this stage, and I'm not going to change anything.
"I have actually got no idea about any of the records at all. It's the first time I heard today that I was the first qualifier to make the semis. I had no idea before that. Yeah, I'm not here to chase any records right now. I'm just taking care of what I can do on the moment and on the match ahead."
Stat corner: Raducanu has still not lost a set in her eight matches over the past two-and-a-half weeks, which includes her three qualifying matches the week prior to the event.
Raducanu was cleaner on the day than the more experienced Bencic, who was seeking her second trip to the US Open semifinals in her last two appearances (Bencic reached the semis in 2019 but did not play last year).
The British teen had 23 winners, nearly double her unforced error count of 12. Bencic, by contrast, had 19 winners and 21 unforced errors. Raducanu was also far more successful on break points, going 3-for-6, while Bencic could only convert one of her five.
🇬🇧 @EmmaRaducanu: The third woman ranked outside the top 100 to reach a #USOpen semi-final 💫— Billie Jean King Cup (@BJKCup) September 8, 2021
The other two?
Unranked @Clijsterskim in 2009 and unranked @BillieJeanKing in 1979.
Unreal company 🤯 pic.twitter.com/eerhB7ZPdA
Key moments: The Bencic backhand appeared to be sending the Swiss back into the final four as she used that wing to break Raducanu in the first game of the match. Two routine holds later, Bencic was up 3-1.
However, costly errors and a double fault in Bencic's next service game helped Raducanu pull level at 3-3, and the Brit grabbed the momentum from there. Raducanu used rally forehand winners to break Bencic again and grasp a 5-3 lead, and she coolly served out the set in the next game to edge closer to the upset, having won the last five games in a row.
Bencic was undone by another double fault in the second set, as she fired one on break point to cede a 3-2 lead to Raducanu. That would prove decisive, as the efficient power game of Raducanu sent her sailing through the remainder of the clash, which had no further service breaks.
Serving for the match at 5-4, Raducanu was plagued by a double fault herself, putting her behind 0-30 and giving Bencic a window of opportunity. But it was no matter for the Brit: she reeled off three straight points, the last with an ace, to reach match point. There, she forced an error with a rally backhand to notch the biggest result of her young career.
Next up: Raducanu is now only one win away from becoming the first qualifier to reach a Grand Slam final. Her opponent will be No.17 seed Maria Sakkari, who claimed the last semifinal spot Wednesday night. It will be their first meeting -- with a place in a first Grand Slam final on the line.