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Stuff that matters

For all that Emma Raducanu has achieved and how far she has come over only a few fleeting weeks as a full-time professional, one of the opportunities she was still waiting for was the chance to battle against a top player. Until she stepped on to Arthur Ashe Stadium, she had never faced a top-40 opponent or tested her strengths against the best.

When the time came against one of the most in-form players on the tour, the Olympic champion, she surveyed the threat across the net and simply stepped up another level.

Raducanu extended her wondrous summer run with a mixture of composure, intelligence and quality, outplaying Belinda Bencic 6-3, 6-4 to reach her first grand slam semi-final.

It cannot be repeated enough: this is Raducanu’s first US Open, her second grand slam tournament and only her fourth tour level event. She only just got here, yet she is now the fourth women’s singles qualifier to reach a grand slam semi-final and the youngest US Open semi-finalist since Maria Sharapova in 2005, a distinction achieved a day earlier by the 19‑year-old Leylah Fernandez.

After eight matches and two and a half weeks in New York, she has still not lost a set. Ten weeks ago Raducanu was the 12th-ranked British player. She has now leapfrogged Johanna Konta and Heather Watson to become the British No 1, ending Konta’s 310-week spell there. Her world ranking will be 51 on Monday, having been 366 in June.

In her on-court interview she said: “Belinda’s ball speed definitely caught me off-guard because she hits the ball so hard. So I had to try and adjust and adapt. It was a really tough match for me. I’m so, so happy to have come through.”

After reaching the quarter-final with 13 wins in her past 14 matches, Bencic began the contest with a level reflecting her confidence. She attacked the Raducanu serve with force and pressured her forehand, immediately breaking serve before building a 3-1 lead.

But Raducanu steadily settled into the match. She pieced together a couple of comfortable holds with precise serving, while returning consistently and searching for ways to problem-solve by even throwing in some loopier forehands to slow down the pace.

The pressure from Raducanu’s consistent returning soon showed as she broke back for 2-3 and then, as has been the case throughout the past three weeks, Raducanu ran with the momentum. She held serve for 4-3 and then on Bencic’s serve at deuce, Raducanu’s superior athleticism made the difference. On the 20th shot of an absurd rally she chased a forehand at full sprint and drilled it down the line for a whistling winner. Raducanu broke serve on the following point and she ended the set flying.

One of the clear differences between Bencic and Raducanu’s prior opponents came immediately in the second set. In previous matches Raducanu had snatched the momentum and never let it go. But down 15-30, Bencic produced a sublime backhand winner under immense pressure. After holding serve to start the set Bencic immediately threatened to start her own run by creating two break points on Raducanu’s serve.

No matter. Raducanu drilled successive backhand and forehand winners to get back to deuce. She saved a third with an unreturned serve and held for 1-1.

As the set wore on and she established the decisive break, Raducanu was in full flow, demonstrating just how well-rounded her game is. She served precisely, continually pressured the Swiss with her consistent return depth, her athleticism allowed her to flip constantly from defence to offence and she remained unafraid of taking the ball early and ending points. She did all of that with minimal errors.

As she stared down the biggest win of her life, nerves naturally flowed.

In her final two games Raducanu fell down 0-30 both times as Bencic circled. But her composure is supreme and both times she immediately steadied herself, landed first serves and rolled through four games in a row to reach a staggering, improbable, maiden grand slam semi-final.

“I was 0-30 in my last couple of service games,” Raducanu said. “To hold was pretty big, literally one point at a time. Just trying to focus on what I can control, my serve, landing first serves. Belinda is an incredibly tough opponent and she was going to fight all the way until the end.”

Throughout her time at the US Open, as she has been asked about the thriving young players in New York and other contemporaries who have spent the past 18 months growing while she did not compete, she has constantly stressed that everyone has their own path.

What a unique and remarkable route she has taken towards the biggest stages of the sport. Even with all of the whispers of her talent that have followed her for a long time, such success so soon into her career as a full time player did not seem likely. Yet she has arrived. Now she will compete on Friday for a spot in her first grand slam final against Greece’s Maria Sakkari, who rode a remarkable serving performance to a 6-4, 6-4 win over Karolína Plíšková later Wednesday.