When the last of her seven aces landed near the baseline with just over a minute left in the second set of her match Thursday against Belinda Bencic, the 15th-seeded Raducanu burst into emotion.
But don’t mistake her emotions for indecision. She had this game figured out in an instant. With one volley into the net, the 51st-ranked Raducanu beat Bencic, ranked 19th, in straight sets.
“I fought to the end and every point was difficult,” Raducanu said of her 7-6, (2), 6-3 victory at the Washington Tennis Center. “I knew I was in the second set and I was trying to focus on my serve. I started feeling more control on my serve.”
Raducanu is in the final four at the US Open for the second consecutive year and advanced to the semifinals for the first time. She plays No. 2 seed Caroline Wozniacki, a 6-3, 6-4 winner over Carla Suarez Navarro, for a place in the championship match.
Raducanu, a fellow native of Slovenia, struggled last year, when she failed to advance out of the first round. She’s hitting harder this year and conceding more balls, so some might think that she could be a recent victim of the injury bug.
“The reason I didn’t play well last year was because I was too inconsistent and not putting pressure on my opponent,” Raducanu said. “My injuries are just a part of my life and I don’t care. I was really bad last year but I’m a much better player this year.”
Bencic is an unselfish player who respects the way she wants to play. Her favorite weapons include forehand groundstrokes and backhand slice and right-handed volleys. To understand why Bencic’s serve can be so hard to return — even in the second set — you have to watch her short exchanges against Raducanu, where she repeatedly serves up a slice backhand to the net that moves only one in three, according to Raducanu.
“My strategy on the backhand slice, if I can get to it really quick then I’m successful,” Bencic said. “It’s not easy because this side is bigger than the left side. If I’m closing it out with a forehand then I’m really good. But, of course, she’s really good.”
In the 10th game of the first set, Raducanu won a lengthy point when Bencic fired wide, a shot that typically catches the top of the net, and then closed the point with a backhand that clipped the backhand wing just beyond the court mark. She also won the 13th game in that tiebreaker and was serving at 5-4 in the second set, leading 40-15 on Bencic’s serve. Bencic, who’s likely to leave the tour after this year, came up with backhand winners at key moments.
Raducanu has only one serve on her own, which she uses mostly to defend, and it was working. At 4-3, she slapped a forehand winner down the line to take the first break point of the match. On her next point, she shook off a backhand that landed a few inches above the net to break Bencic. She served out the set, converting her third match point.
“I feel really good with my game now,” Raducanu said. “I got a few years of experience, I’m better with my return game and I feel really confident in my game now.”