Michael Pavitt

The focus heading into the US Open seemed largely to be about the players who were absent, rather than those who were competing at the final Grand Slam of the year.

The absence of Serena Williams, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal was bemoaned before the tournament, with injuries meaning none of the three greats were competing at the same major for the first time since 1997.

It is something the sport will have to get used to in the next few years, but there has remained this concern about how the void would be filled.

The tennis gods, it appears, have responded in emphatic fashion by delivering one of the sport's most astonishing storylines to date.

Tennis experts have spent much of the past fortnight becoming increasingly bewildered at the events unfolding in front of their eyes in the women’s singles draw, as Canada's Leylah Fernandez and Britain’s Emma Raducanu swept aside their competition en route to the final.

Fernandez had only won consecutive matches on two occasions since March prior to the tournament, but the 19-year-old preceded to overcome three of the five top seeds on her road to the final.

The Raducanu story was even more eye-opening, with the 18-year-old Briton joining a select club with every victory in the tournament.

From being the first female player since 1990 to reach the fourth round in their first two major appearances, to becoming only the third outside the top 100 to reach the final - joining Kim Clijsters and Billie Jean King.

Emma Raducanu became the first qualifier to win a Grand Slam singles title ©Getty Images
Emma Raducanu became the first qualifier to win a Grand Slam singles title ©Getty Images

Raducanu’s ninth consecutive straight-sets victory in the tournament saw her become the first woman to win a major in just her second appearance, with Monica Seles and Bianca Andreescu having taken just the four attempts for their maiden triumphs.

As noted by the Tennis Podcast, Raducanu managed to halve a record which was nearly impossible to lower in the first place.

The accomplishment which will stand out from the rest will be Raducanu becoming the first qualifier to win a Grand Slam event - male or female. It is entirely conceivable that this may never be matched and even if it is, nobody can take away the feat of being the first.

If it is difficult for spectators to compute, one only wonders what it must be like for a teenager to enjoy such a meteoric rise.

From relative obscurity a matter of months ago to being presented with a cheque for $2.5 million (£1.8 million/€2.1 million), having the Queen issue a comment about your match and discover you successfully led to Channel 4’s television schedule to have been amended to allow 9.2 million people to tune in to the match.

In a more modern metric noting her rise to prominence, Raducanu’s Instagram account has surged from around 10,000 followers before Wimbledon to 1.3 million and rising.

Almost as remarkable as the quality of the final yesterday, was the poise of both Raducanu and Fernandez in managing the occasion and demands.

Fernandez's request to offer a final thought to the crowd, recognising the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York, stood out.

Canada’s Leylah Fernandez impressed throughout the tournament on and off the court ©Getty Images
Canada’s Leylah Fernandez impressed throughout the tournament on and off the court ©Getty Images

"I know on this day it was especially hard for New York and everyone around the United States," she said. "I just want to say that I hope I can be as strong and as resilient as New York has been the past 20 years."

One can only hope the composure shown by both stands them in good stead, given the intense focus and scrutiny on athletes nowadays. Both in coping with pressure on the court and dealing with unexpected off-court issues, such as Britain’s baffling need to turn Raducanu’s victory into a widespread debate about her heritage.

Having provided an excellent endorsement of the quality of women’s tennis with her play, Raducanu also backed it up with her words post-match as well.

"I think this final shows that the future of women’s tennis and just the depth of the game right now is so great," she said.

"I think every single player in the women’s draw definitely has a shot to win any tournament. I hope that the next generation can follow in the steps of the greatest legends - like Billie Jean King - and everyone who is at the top of the game right now."

The final was undoubtedly promising for the future of the sport, with the two teenagers competing in the final just three years on from meeting in the singles at junior Wimbledon.

Emma Raducanu highlighted the strength in depth across the women's game in her post-match interview ©Getty Images
Emma Raducanu highlighted the strength in depth across the women's game in her post-match interview ©Getty Images

Incidentally the player who eliminated Raducanu and went on to win the tournament was Poland’s Iga Świątek, last year’s French Open champion. The 20-year-old was the only player on the Women’s Tennis Association Tour this year to reach the fourth round at all four major events, highlighting her ability and illustrating the depth in the women’s game.

With the sport in the final years of the Williams era and Big Four domination in the men’s event, organisers of tournaments will surely be relieved by the quality of players emerging at the top of the women’s game. Even the current world number one Ashleigh Barty and number two Osaka are only 25 and 23 respectively.

The stunning women's tournament at the US Open has garnered such attention for the sport that even Novak Djokovic's attempt to become the first man since Rod Laver to achieve the calendar Grand Slam seems to have played second fiddle.

The US Open could yet conclude with two staggering and very different achievements, both of which would show that tennis remains in a very good place.