As it applies to one high-profile tennis situation, New York and Las Vegas have something in common. What happened in New York last month stayed there.
Emma Raducanu of England had done the unthinkable, the inconceivable, at the U.S. Open in mid-September. She was 18 years old, a qualifier in the women’s draw ranked No. 385 to start the season. Just to get into the main draw of this prestigious event, she would have to win three matches. Then, to win the tournament, she would have to win seven more.
Nobody even laughed at that because nobody even considered it. Gambling odds on that happening would have to be in the neighborhood of 1,000-1.
But she did it, and in great style. She never even lost a set. That meant 10 matches and all 20 sets won by the young woman from the southeast London borough of Bromley. It included a straight-set win in the final over Canada’s Leylah Fernandez, who was the older woman in the match at 19. Raducanu punctuated her grand moment with a 109-mph ace on match point. Could it get any better than that?
The tennis world didn’t know whether to giggle or hold a ticker-tape parade. The word “prodigy” didn’t quite capture it. Tennis had seen lots of wild things, but nothing topped this. The sport, as well as the general public, couldn’t wait to see what would happen next.
How would this young woman of Romanian and Chinese heritage, who went from playing on tournament back courts in front of mom and dad and seven neighbors to winning on a sold-out, 23,771-seat Arthur Ashe Stadium, carry on?
How would a player who had started on the back courts of the Billie Jean King Tennis Center before most other players had even settled into their hotel rooms, and then went on to win it all before 3.4 million TV viewers, handle all this?
Would her $2.5-million winner’s purse — she had entered the event with $35,185 for her career — inspire her or spoil her?
The quick and fair answer was that nobody knew. For two weeks in New York, she had been Wonder Woman. She had taken a huge bite out of the Big Apple, and now tennis and sports fans were left to chew on their thoughts of her future.
The first nibble came Friday night in the BNP Paribas Open, the Palm Springs desert’s contribution to tennis showtime. The main stadium, called the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, is second in the world to Arthur Ashe in capacity with 16,100 seats. It was opened in March 2000, almost three years before Raducanu was born.
The entry eligibility for the event closed just before the U.S. Open. Raducanu, who had had an interesting run at Wimbledon that moved her ranking to No. 150, still was too low to get a spot. But after her miracle in Flushing Meadows, the Indian Wells tournament organizers knew they had to have her. No dummies, these people.
Raducanu, who had gone home after her scorched-earth run in New York and enjoyed her mother’s special-recipe dumplings, was sent a wild-card entry. She hadn’t played since the U.S. Open, but she accepted, bringing us to the nicely conceived and heavily promoted Friday evening session.
The British are coming!
Raducanu was scheduled for the first match and British veteran and tennis hero Andy Murray would play the second. Murray has won three majors, including being the first favored son in decades to win a Wimbledon title, and two Olympic golds in singles, including at the London Olympics. But Raducanu was the main attraction. Poor Andy. From superstar to afterthought.
When she won her first service game at love over veteran Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus, it appeared the Raducanu engine still had full pistons. But quickly, oil was leaking. Sasnovich, eight years Raducanu’s senior, got back in the match, breezed through the first set and even rallied from 2-4 down in the second to advance handily.
Against Sasnovich, Raducanu was overmatched, outsmarted and a level below. The dominance Raducanu displayed in New York had stayed in New York.
To her credit, which should give hope to her legions of newly acquired fans, she acknowledged her shortcomings. She said Sasnovich was a veteran, played like one and deserved to win.
“I’m 18 years old,” Raducanu said. “I need to cut myself some slack.”
So does the tennis world, but that may be tough.
She has already navigated through controversy at Wimbledon, where she won three matches and then defaulted in the middle of the fourth, saying she was having breathing problems.
Broadcasters John McEnroe and Piers Morgan raised the question of her intestinal fortitude. McEnroe was gentler. Morgan just said, flat out, “She couldn’t handle the pressure. She wasn’t brave. It was just a shame.”
The only certainty at this point about Emma Raducanu is that, for the moment, Tennis Hall of Fame voters need to stick those ballots in a desk drawer.
“It’s going to take some time to adjust to what is going on,” Raducanu said. “I’ll need to get my head back to the drawing board.”
It was perspective rather than sulking or whining. A good thing.
Expect many more moments of brilliance for Raducanu. Expect many will happen outside New York.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.