Emma Raducanu, the British teenage tennis sensation, did not expect to play in the US Open this year.
The 18-year-old had booked flights back from New York two weeks ago at the end of the qualifying stage, on the assumption that she would not advance to the main stage of the grand slam tournament. Her travel plans were radically changed by an unprecedented run to the women’s singles final on Saturday.
Back in the UK, fans started to sit up and notice that free-to-air broadcaster Channel 4 struck a last minute deal to share live coverage of the final with Amazon Prime Video.
“We’re thrilled to have partnered with Prime Video and pulled out all the stops to get it up and running and I’m sure viewers will be excited at the prospect of seeing Emma in this grand slam final,” he said. Channel 4’s chief content officer Ian Katz.
“Time here in New York has gone so fast,” Raducanu said on court after her semi-final victory against Maria Sakkari, the 17th seed from Greece, in straight sets on Thursday night. “I just looked after me every day and before you know it, three weeks later, I’m in the final and I can’t believe it.”
No player, male or female, has previously made it through the qualifications to reach a final of a grand slam, the four annual competitions considered the pinnacle of tennis. She was ranked 150th in the world for the tournament and is on the cusp of becoming the first British woman to win a major tournament since Virginia Wade triumphed at Wimbledon in 1977.
But between her and the trophy is Canada’s Leylah Fernandez, another surprise pack for teenagers looking to win her first grand slam. Before the tournament, Fernandez, who had an even more difficult time to the final, was in 73rd place in the world ranking.
From all her post-match interviews, Raducanu, who has yet to lose a set at the US Open, is simply enjoying her lingering stay. But sports industry executives said her achievements would turn her into one of the most marketable figures in British sport.
Continued success throughout her career could turn her into an international superstar alongside tennis champions such as Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka, who are among the highest-earning female athletes in all sports.
“All the ingredients are there to become the dominant British sportswoman of her time,” said Tim Crow, an independent sports marketing expert.
Raducanu’s shot at sporting glory, and the riches that come with it, already represent a remarkable rise. Born in Canada to a Romanian father and Chinese mother, she arrived in the UK at the age of 2 when her parents moved to Bromley, in south east London.
Earlier this year, she completed her A-Levels before playing at Wimbledon, her only previous experience in a grand slam tournament. There she became the youngest British woman to reach the last 16 before having to stop during her match due to apparent breathing difficulties.
Raducanu is a product of the Lawn Tennis Association’s talent development program, launched in 2018, targeting 16- to 24-year-olds. The UK sport’s governing body’s pro-scholarship program is designed to consistently produce players who can compete for the sport’s top prizes.
That stands in stark contrast to former men’s number one Andy Murray, the last British player to win the US Open, who left his native Scotland at the age of 15 for private coaching in Spain.
Iain Bates, head of women’s tennis at the LTA, said that despite Raducanu’s meteoric rise, it was too early to declare the new exchanges a success.
“We had six girls here playing in qualifiers, five of whom are in our pro scholarship program,” he said from New York. “My job must be done to get that group of five, of which Emma was one, to the top 100.” [ranked players in the world]. Then I think we’ll start to see signs of progress.”
But Bates added that Raducanu would inspire her peers: “She learns so quickly, she adapts so quickly to the speed of the game and she can level up very quickly. It shows what is possible and it gives others that energy and the confidence that they can also keep pushing themselves to achieve higher things.”
In Fernandez, she faces another surprising finalist. The Canadian, who turned 19 on Monday, followed a shocking third-round defeat to defending champion Osaka with victories over former world number one Angelique Kerber and second-seeded Aryna Sabalenka of the US Open.
Raducanu is sure to contribute to the more than $300,000 in prize money she has earned in her short career so far. The winner of the US Open will take home $2.5 million, the runner-up $1.25 million.
Raducanu’s sole sponsors are sportswear group Nike and racket makers Wilson. Others will surely seek an association with one of the sport’s brightest prospects.
Scoreboard is the The Washington City Times’ new weekly briefing on sports, where you’ll find the best analysis of financial issues affecting clubs, franchises, owners, investors and media groups in the global industry. Register here.
“By extending its existing deals alone, Raducanu can expect to generate more than $1 million in revenue. . . while other brands will no doubt look to Raducanu as a potential brand ambassador,” said Conrad Wiacek, head of sports analytics at GlobalData, a research group. “[She] may have become the face of British tennis in the near future.”
While others ponder how to cash in on her success, Raducanu herself is shocked at how far she’s come in such a short amount of time on the court.
“Of course I wanted to play grand slams, but I didn’t know how fast that would be,” she said after her victory in the semi-final. “I have no words to be in a grand slam final at this stage of my career.”
Additional reporting by Murad Ahmed in London and Sara Germano in New York