July 14, 2024

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New Zealander Sun Raduganu stunned to reach Wimbledon quarter-finals

New Zealander Sun Raduganu stunned to reach Wimbledon quarter-finals

Three years ago at the US Open, Emma Raduganu made one of the most improbable runs in the sport’s history, becoming the first player to win a Grand Slam singles title after qualifying.

Just when Raducanu looked set to repeat that incredible feat at Wimbledon, another player from the qualifying round was unlikely to put himself in precisely the same position.

23-year-old Lulu Sun, representing New Zealand, defeated Raduganu 6-2, 5-7, 6-2 to reach the quarter-finals on Sunday.

The action-packed game lasted 2 hours and 50 minutes, including a time-out due to Raduganu’s injury.

“Oh, man,” Sun said in his on-court interview, his voice shaking with emotion, “that was a great match against her. I really had to fight her tooth and nail.

“I’m incredulous… I don’t even have words right now.”

It will be Raduganu’s third time playing on Center Court in this fortnight, but the Sun’s first. You wouldn’t know. Sun was persistent and didn’t allow Raduganu to set foot in the match. In the end, the match always depends on the shots Sun hits: hit or miss.

When healthy, Raduganu’s calling card is obvious aggression. Well, Sun was the aggressor, posting 52 winners, the most of any woman in the tournament so far, just 19 for Raduganu. Sun made several breakthroughs and eventually won 23 out of 28 points at the net. Radukanu dared to score only seven times.

Sun broke Raduganu’s serve five times.

Most casual tennis fans are familiar with Raduganu’s story, but Sun’s is a remarkable story.

Sun has a father from Eastern Europe and a mother from China. He moved to Switzerland at age five and somehow won an NCAA title at the University of Texas in 2021. In her first Wimbledon, the 123rd-ranked left-hander won three of her previous matches here and now. Four more in the main draw. She is only the second New Zealand woman to reach a Slam quarter-final since Belinda Cardwell at the 1989 Australian Open.

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“It’s definitely something that doesn’t happen often and I’m very grateful to be in this situation,” Sun said after his third-round win over Zhu Lin. “I definitely feel the support of the people and Tennis New Zealand and I’m really happy and grateful to be here every round.”

If the seeds hold, it will be No. 9 Maria Zachary against No. 8 would have been Zheng Qinwen, but Sun rejected that scenario immediately, defeating Zheng in the first round. Raduganu did his part and sent Sakari home in the third round.

As a result, both players made some history when they took to center court. It is only the second time in the Open era that a qualifier and a wild card have met in the fourth round of a Grand Slam tournament. It’s a familiar feud since junior high.

Son came out flying, breaking Raducanu twice to take a 3-0 lead, winning 14 of 20 points (eight of them winners) in a neat 15 minutes. Raduganu immediately recovered to make it 3-2 before Sun won the final three games to take the first set. Sun broke serve three times.

The second set turned into a huge battle, with both players putting all kinds of pressure on the server. Radukanu saved one break point in the third game, Sun saved two in the fourth game, and Radukanu saved two more in the seventh game.

At 5-6, Sun fought off two more break points before Raduganu scored the only break of the set. Sun’s backhand flew long and after a 73-minute second quarter they entered the third set, Raduganu’s first at Wimbledon.

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After a long bathroom break, Raduganu slipped and fell in the first game of the third set and suffered an apparent injury to his left leg (and lower back) and was given a timeout for further reasons. Returning to the court, he stood up and threw the card. However, Sun finally got a break on her serve to take a 1-0 lead that immediately took her to 2-0.

Critical mass worked with Raduganu at 4-2. On the second break point of the match, he double faulted to give Sun an insurmountable lead.

After establishing this matchup, Sun was asked if he would welcome the prospect of playing Raducanu on center court.

“I will be very happy to have the opportunity to play against such a great athlete,” he said. “He’s been out of Grand Slams before and I’m sure he’s a Wimbledon favorite because he’s from here.

“But I want to take an opportunity to play center and play against her.”

These seven wins at the All England Club would have a sweet and life-changing impact on Sun. Next week, it will break into the top 100 for the first time. Son has topped $300,000 in career earnings, and now he’s already grossed more than that. A quarterfinal win over Donna Vekic would earn her $750,000.

On reaching the fourth round, Raduganu spoke of her arrival there.

“Naturally that’s always been one of my big strengths: big points,” he told reporters. “I thrive on progress. I like a challenge and trying to overcome it.”

I might be talking here about Lulu Sun’s progress in this fortnight.

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