Emma Raducanu powers past Maria Sakkari to reach Wimbledon last 16

History does not repeat itself, but it often rhymes. And for Emma Raducanu, this year’s Wimbledon is increasingly carrying echoes of the greatest moment of her young life.

Over the past few days the draw has opened up for the 21-year-old Briton like the Red Sea before Moses – just as it did when she won the US Open as a 1,000-1 outsider in 2021. Incredibly she is not scheduled to meet another seed until next Thursday’s semi-finals. On Friday, Raducanu also found Maria Sakkari barring her path – just as she did in New York. And once again she blasted her out of sight. The Greek was the ninth seed here but had no answer as Raducanu gave a display of counterpunching to make Floyd Mayweather purr before winning 6-2, 6-3 in 91 minutes.

An omen? Why not? For this was staggering stuff – especially given that Raducanu has largely been in the tennis wilderness since her stunning grand slam success three years ago. “Today was really up there with the most fun I have had on a tennis court,” she said afterwards. “I really enjoyed every single moment.

“I was telling myself you don’t know how many times you are going to get the chance in your life to play in front of a full Centre Court, so I’m really grateful for the support.”

Raducanu’s reward is a last-16 match against the qualifier Lulu Sun, the world No 123 from New Zealand. Win that and she will face either Donna Vekic, the world No 37, or Paula Badosa, currently ranked 93rd after major injury troubles. No match at Wimbledon is easy. But some are less difficult than others.

Meanwhile, two statistics told the story of Friday’s match. Sakkari had seven break points and didn’t take one, while Raducanu had nine and was successful five times.

The other staggering number? Sakkari hit 31 unforced errors while Raducanu had 13. That proved to be the key to the match. Sakkari had the bigger forehand but Raducanu absorbed the blows, made her opponent play extra shots and induced numerous errors. And time and again when the pressure was highest, Raducanu’s resolve only hardened.

“I’m most proud of how focused and determined I was in every single point, in every single moment,” she said. “Maria is a top-10 opponent. In a way I came in with a free swing. But she is so tough, she has amazing weapons. I knew I had to battle. You just have to play every point like it could be your last, not to be dramatic.”

Emma Raducanu’s resurgence after form and fitness issues has been remarkable. Photograph: Isabel Infantes/Reuters

Watching Raducanu play, it seemed extraordinary that it was barely two months ago she said she was “mentally and emotionally” exhausted after losing to the world No 82 María Lourdes Carlé in Madrid. Or that she missed the French Open. Or that since her success in New York, she has flailed around the circuit, and struggled with wrist and ankle injuries. Here she was sensational.

Raducanu had been kept waiting by the four-hour epic between Carlos Alcaraz and Frances Tiafoe, and Centre Court was only half full when the match got under way. But it didn’t seem to bother her as she broke immediately.

Sakkari is known as a nervy player and it showed as she blew a 40-15 lead in the opening game with a series of errors and a double fault. History then repeated itself in the second game as Sakkari went 15-40 up on Raducanu’s serve, only to throw it away again.

Raducanu was playing so sweetly it was a shock to see her miss an easy overhead to break again at 3-1. But it didn’t matter. A brilliant topspin lob helped her go 5-2 up and the first set was sealed in 44 minutes The No 9 seed was continuing to attack but Raducanu kept making her play one extra ball time and again – much to Sakkari’s frustration.

After losing her serve to go down 2-1 in the second set, Sakkari got an extraordinary piece of luck as a defensive shot landed on the net cord and flobbed over the net in her favour. But Raducanu didn’t flinch. She won the next two points to move 3-1 up.

The match then went on serve until Raducanu was 5-3 up in the second set. Sakkari was able to save two match points, but on the third a final error proved decisive.

The bonfire of seeds in her quarter – including the pre-tournament favourite Aryna Sabalenka, Ekaterina ­Alexandrova, Zheng Qinwen and Mirra Andreeva on the first day – continued on Friday with Daria Kasatkina and Dayana Yastremska also going out.

Next Raducanu will play Sun, who became the first New Zealander in 13 years to defeat a top-100 player in a singles match when she beat the world No 8 Zheng on Monday. But facing Raducanu in front of an increasingly expectant Centre Court will be another matter entirely.

The Guardian

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