Fernandez and Raducanu ready for historic US Open final
Fernandez and Raducanu ready for historic US Open final
It is extremely hard to know who will prevail when Leylah Fernandez takes on Emma Raducanu in one of the unlikeliest, yet most inspiring, Grand Slam finals in the sport’s history at the US Open.
The depth and unpredictability of women’s tennis has been celebrated for several years now, but nobody on Earth could have honestly predicted the finalists set for Saturday afternoon's decider in New York.
Fernandez, 19, faces 18-year-old Emma Raducanu in the first all-teenaged Grand Slam final since Serena Williams beat Martina Hingis for her first major title at the 1999 US Open.
But while Hingis and Williams were at that time already top-10 superstars in the women’s game, Fernandez and Raducanu had nowhere near the same profiles until captivating the tennis world this fortnight.
World No.73 Fernandez became the third-lowest ranked US Open women’s finalist in the Open Era when she upstaged Aryna Sabalenka in a thrilling three-set semifinal.
But that statistic only remained valid for two hours, until the 150th-ranked Raducanu became the first qualifier in history to progress to a major final.
Raducanu: "I knew I had some sort of level inside of me"
“A shock. Crazy. All of the above,” said Raducanu, after beating No.17 seed Maria Sakkari 6-1 6-4 in Thursday’s second semifinal.
“I personally think inside I knew I had some sort of level inside of me that was similar to these girls, but I didn't know if I was able to maintain it over a set or over two sets. To be able to do it and play the best players in the world and beat them, I honestly can't believe it.
“I wanted obviously to be playing Grand Slams, but I didn't know how soon that would be. To be in a Grand Slam final at this stage of my career, yeah, I have no words.”
Few tennis pundits have adequate words themselves to describe what Raducanu has achieved at Flushing Meadows.
This is just her second Grand Slam main draw ever, and just the fourth tour-level tournament of her career.
To reach this stage of the tournament, she has won nine straight matches and a staggering 18 consecutive sets.
Ranked outside the top 300 just two months ago, she is projected to rise to No.32 with her performance this fortnight, and could crack the top 25 if she wins the trophy.
But Raducanu admitted she has been almost entirely unaware of the incredible achievements and statistical milestones she was compiling during her US Open run so far.
“Honestly right now I'm just thinking of the game plan, how to execute. That's what's landed me in this situation,” said the Brit, who has won 17 of her last 19 matches.
Many of Saturday’s newspaper in the UK are dominated by Emma Raducanu on both the front pages and in the sports section ⬇️⬇️ pic.twitter.com/lV0xr3E364— Adam_Addicott (@AdamAddicott) September 10, 2021
She also revealed she has “given her phone away” – presumably to a team-member – and has not been checking messages as she works her way through the draw.
It has helped insulate her from the enormous attention she is generating back home in United Kingdom, where she has been a front-page presence in the nation's newspapers.
Fernandez: "I have no limit to my potential"
Fernandez has garnered similar support – most notably from Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, as well as the large New York crowds – as she has continued her fairytale run at the tournament.
Of the two finalists, Fernandez’s path to the final has featured a significantly higher degree of difficulty.
Incredibly, Raducanu represents the least-credentialled opponent Fernandez has faced so far in New York, despite this being the biggest match of all.
All six of her previous opponents were either current or former top 20 players, and in her last four outings she has defeated three top-five opponents as well as two multiple major champions.
Fernandez: “A teacher told me to stop playing tennis, you'll never make it, just focus on school.— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) September 10, 2021
"I'm glad she told me that b/c every day I have that phrase in my head saying: I'm going to keep going, push through, prove to her everything I've dreamed of I'm going to achieve."
Osaka was perhaps the biggest victory of all; the defending champion, a four-time major winner, served for the match at 7-5, 6-5 before Fernandez roared back. And against one of the game’s grittiest fighters in Kerber, Fernandez trailed 6-4 4-2 before claiming another inspired victory.
“I believed in my game, but it also has helped me open my eyes that I have no limit to my potential, that I can go three sets against these players… and I can win against these top players,” said Fernandez, who had previously played in just six Grand Slam main draws, and never gone beyond the third round.
“I'm just glad to have this experience. I'm extremely proud of the way I fought for every point. My mental toughness, that's been a huge plus for me. I'm just extremely happy with what I've achieved this week.
“I think I've been doing some things incredible. I think one word that really stuck to me is 'magical' because not only is my run really good but also the way I'm playing right now.”
Fernandez and Raducanu have met once before – a match Raducanu won – in the 2018 Wimbledon junior event.
But this occasion, a Grand Slam final, represents an entirely different world to that meeting three years ago.
“Obviously since then we've both come very far in our games and as people,” Raducanu said.
“This is obviously by far my best achievement so far. I don't want to get ahead of myself, but it's all to play for on Saturday.
“To play Leylah, it will be a tough match for sure. She's playing great tennis. But I think I'm also playing very good tennis.
“I'm sure there will be a good atmosphere for both of us.”