Elliott: Emma Raducanu leads pack of tennis' next wave at U.S. Open

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Emma Raducanu, of Britain, reacts to winning a point against against Shelby Rogers, of the United States, during the fourth round of the US Open tennis championships, Monday, Sept. 6, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Emma Raducanu reacts to winning a point against Shelby Rogers during the fourth round of the U.S. Open Monday in New York. (Seth Wenig / Associated Press)

Things are happening fast for Emma Raducanu. Good things. But the British teenager was wise enough to pause the mad rush of her U.S. Open run to appreciate where she was.

Before starting her fourth-round match against Shelby Rogers on Monday and taking the biggest leap of her tennis life, Raducanu looked around Arthur Ashe Stadium to imprint on her memory the sights and sounds swirling around her. It was crazy. It was wonderful. It was where she was meant to be.

“I was just soaking it all in, really. I was really trying to enjoy the moment,” said Raducanu, who went through qualifying to earn a spot in the Open main draw. “It’s something that you kind of dream of, like, to play on Ashe, the biggest court in the world. So soon I really didn’t expect to be here. I just really wanted to be in the present and take it all in.”

Raducanu played as if she had been there — and other grand courts of the sport — dozens of times. Overcoming initial jitters, a broken serve in the first game of the first set and an 0-2 deficit, Raducanu calmly took Rogers apart. Raducanu won the last six games of the first set and the first five games of the second set while creating terrific angles, returning Rogers’ serve with authority, and committing 14 unforced errors to Rogers’ 29.

Raducanu’s 6-2, 6-1 romp launched her into her first Grand Slam quarterfinal. At the rate she’s progressing, it won’t be her last.

“I’m excited for her,” said Rogers, whose exit leaves no American women in the final eight. “That’s the next generation of our sport, and it’s in good hands.”

Rogers regretted she couldn’t put up a better fight on Monday, but she was drained after her three-set ouster of No. 1 Ashleigh Barty on Saturday and a three-set doubles loss on Sunday. “That was pretty embarrassing,” said Rogers, 28. “It was a tough day at the office. Unfortunately, I had to fail in front of thousands and thousands of people.”

More rest might have allowed Rogers to make the match closer but she still wouldn’t have gotten past Raducanu, who hasn’t dropped a set in four main draw matches and has lost only 15 games. Raducanu’s confidence and game are growing with each match. “I have watched her the last few months. She’s been doing a lot of great stuff,” Rogers said.

This tournament has offered a peek at what tennis will look like after legends Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams move off center stage and center court. It’s looking young, unpredictable and fun.

Raducanu said she was inspired when 18-year-old Carlos Alcaraz of Spain and Leylah Fernandez of Canada, who turned 19 on Monday, advanced to the quarterfinals on Sunday. “I wanted to join them,” she said, and she did.

Wild card Jenson Brooksby of Sacramento, 20, made some noise about joining them, too, when he won the first set against world No. 1 Novak Djokovic and stayed with him in long, often amazing rallies into the second set Monday night. But the matchless court coverage and conditioning shown by Djokovic, who’s pursuing a calendar Grand Slam and a men’s-record 21st Slam singles title, fueled Djokovic’s 1-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 comeback. His quarterfinal opponent will be Matteo Berrettini of Italy, whom Djokovic beat in a four-set Wimbledon final in July.

Novak Djokovic greets Jenson Brooksby after beating Brooksby during the fourth round of the U.S. Open.
Novak Djokovic, left, greets Jenson Brooksby after beating Brooksby during the fourth round of the U.S. Open Monday in New York. (John Minchillo / Associated Press)

“It was a good finish. It wasn’t a good start,” he said of his performance against Brooksby, who’s ranked No. 99. Djokovic turned the tide by breaking Brooksby’s serve early in the second set. “I wanted him to feel my presence on the court,” Djokovic said.

Brooksby, who said a previous hip injury hampered him as the match went on, said he takes away only positive thoughts. “I really enjoyed playing in an atmosphere like that and hope that I get to many more times in the future,” he said.

Surprises continued as the fourth round finished. Unseeded Lloyd Harris of South Africa reached his first Grand Slam quarterfinal with a 6-7 (6), 6-4, 6-1, 6-3 victory over No. 22 Reilly Opelka, whose big serve deserted him. Harris will face No. 4 seed Alexander Zverev on Wednesday.

On Sunday, Botic van de Zandschulp of the Netherlands, who went through qualifying and then upset No. 8 Casper Ruud in the second round and No. 11 Diego Schwartzman in the round of 16, also became a first-time quarterfinalist. Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada, 21, who reached his second straight Slam quarterfinal, said the absence of Nadal and Federer opened a door here.

“For sure, I think myself and all the other young players are hungry to do more, to take the spot of the others,” said Auger-Aliassime, who will face Alcaraz next.

Raducanu will play No. 11 seed Belinda Bencic of Switzerland, who saved four set points in her first set on Monday against No. 7 Iga Swiatek in a 7-6 (12), 6-3 win. “She’s in great form, having won Olympic gold,” Raducanu said. “I’m also feeling good about my game, also confident with the amount of matches I’ve played.”

Raducanu and the other new kids in town are coming along nicely. Soon, it will be their time to shine at center stage and center court.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.