LONDON: The thought of getting a message from Queen Elizabeth II for becoming tennis’ most improbable Grand Slam champion likely couldn’t have been further from Emma Raducanu’s mind at the start of the year.
Indeed, at that time, she was preoccupied with whether she’d be able to finish her high-school degree during the pandemic.
“So are A Levels happening?” read one of the first tweets of 2021 from a math and economics student from Bromley — an area of southeast London — who just happened to also be a really, really good tennis player, even if few in Britain had heard of her.
Despite her obvious ability on the court, Raducanu’s parents were insistent on their daughter finishing her education so she had something to fall back on in case a tennis career didn’t take off.
Seems crazy now, right?
The 18-year-old Raducanu was being hailed Sunday as the new queen of British sport — and perhaps the architect of one of the most unlikely sporting achievements of all time — by winning the U.S. Open as a qualifier.
Her 6-4, 6-3 victory over Leylah Fernandez, broadcast on free-to-air TV in Britain, was in a primetime slot on Saturday evening, allowing the nation to savor a superstar in the making.
Among them, apparently, was the British Prime Minister.
“What a sensational match! Huge congratulations to Emma Raducanu,” read a tweet from Boris Johnson’s official account. “You showed extraordinary skill, poise and guts and we are all hugely proud of you.”
The queen also sent her congratulations.
“It is a remarkable achievement at such a young age,” the monarch said, “and is testament to your hard work and dedication.”
Gary Lineker, the former England soccer captain, was hosting a popular soccer highlights show — “Match of the Day” — on the BBC as Raducanu was completing a victory in Arthur Ashe Stadium that would earn her $2.5 million and change her life forever. Seems he didn’t have his mind on the job.
“First time in my life I’ve ever tweeted whilst on air,” Lineker said, “but my goodness what a performance, what a triumph, what an amazing young woman.”
They were sentiments echoed across the country as Britain got to grips with the success of a teenager — born in Toronto but who moved to England with her family at age 2 — who pulled at the heartstrings of her nation with a July run to the fourth round of Wimbledon that ended when she withdrew from a match on medical advice, saying the “whole experience caught up with me.”
If her matches at Wimbledon were overshadowed by the England soccer team’s run to the European Championship final over the same period, she had the country’s attention all to herself on Saturday.
“Incredible — we are all so proud of you,” wrote the Duchess of Cambridge on her Twitter account about Raducanu’s “historic Grand Slam victory.”
Raducanu’s amazing success — until three months ago, she’d never played in a professional tour-level event — had some comparing it to Leicester winning the Premier League in 2016, at preseason odds of 5,000-1, and marketing experts predicting vast career earnings potential.
Because, considering the way she played in New York, Raducanu is here to stay.
“She will win more of these (Grand Slams), she is that good,” said former British No. 1 tennis player Tim Henman, who has been a mentor to Raducanu.
“This is not some flash in the pan or fairy tale. She is playing top-five tennis. Her world will be turned upside down but she has good people around her and it will be a hell of a ride if she can stay injury-free.”