It’s been 44 years since Great Britain had a female Grand Slam champion, but US Open wildcard Emma Raducanu is only two games away from following in the footsteps of the legendary Virginia Wade. After her last 16 win, the 18-year-old paid tribute to Wade, who was in the stands cheering her on, having won the US Open in 1968.
“Thank you for watching my match, I really appreciate it. You are an absolute legend so I am really honoured to have had you here.”
Now the US Open semi-final awaits where the teenager will take on Maria Sakkari, but this has been a long time coming for British tennis. The world of sport was a very different place when Wade won her final Grand Slam, Wimbledon, in 1977. The Manchester United manager Tommy Docherty was sacked after having an affair with the club’s physiotherapist, James Hunt won the British Grand Prix and France won the Five Nations by using just 15 players in four matches.
A lot has changed in those 44 years, but British tennis has been waiting almost half a century for another elite female to emerge. Sir Andy Murray ended a 77-year wait for a male winner at Wimbledon and has been the man that put British tennis back on the map, but now Raducanu has come from nowhere to be our leading lady.
Nobody in history had reached the US Open semi-finals having had to come through qualifying until she ripped up the rule book this year. No British teenager has burst onto the scene in quite the same way and she has completely captured the British public’s imagination. For Sports Personality of the Year, she has gone from 500/1 into 4/1 with Betfred, and you’d think if she does win her first Grand Slam, she will be a shoo-in for the award, despite Tom Daley’s Olympic success.
But SPOTY also provides a parallel between Wade and Raducanu. In 1977, the Wimbledon champion edged out Geoffrey Boycott to win the award, and the Brit could well follow in her idol’s award-winning footsteps, given her performances this year.
"Without question I think Emma is the new star of British tennis,” The former US Open champion said of the young prodigy. “There's no question she's just got special qualities, she's good in all departments. she's still young, you don't know how it's going to evolve, but without anything going wrong, she should be set up there with the top girls for a long time.”
The age factor is still something that is difficult to get your head around. Wade was 23 when she won the US Open, her first Grand Slam, 27 when she won the Australian Open, and 32 when she got her hands on that Wimbledon title. Raducanu is just 18. Wade, now 76, also managed to beat one of the greatest of all time, Billie Jean King, in her US Open final and also had to compete with Margaret Court and fellow Brit Sue Barker.
For Britain’s newest superstar, it seems like there is a real opportunity for somebody to grab women’s tennis by the horns. Serena Williams’ era of domination is over, Naomi Osaka has performed at an exceedingly high level but is taking some time to focus on her mental health and Aryna Sabalenka, the highest seed left in this year’s US Open, is yet to make a Grand Slam final.
There’s an overwhelming amount of female talent out there, but no standout candidate to dominate the Grand Slams, as Novak Djokovic does in the men’s game. She has a long way to go to establish herself as one of the elite players in the world, but this is such an exciting time for British tennis.
Raducanu is just two matches away from becoming the first British female Grand Slam champion since 1977 and replicating her idol Virginia Wade, who will be right behind her every step of the way. Britain has waited an awfully long time for a woman like Emma Raducanu.