Fernandez completes journey of discovery in ‘magical’ US Open

  • Matt Trollope

Canadian teenager Leylah Fernandez was bitterly disappointed after falling in Saturday’s US Open final to Britain's Emma Raducanu.

But the 19-year-old could nevertheless see the positives after her outstanding fortnight of tennis concluded in New York.

Most of the attention may well have been directed toward her 18-year-old opponent, who stunned the tennis world with her run to the title after beginning the tournament in the qualifying rounds.

REPORT: Teenager Raducanu wins fairytale US Open title

But prior to that, it was Fernandez who was arguably the biggest story of the tournament.

The 19-year-old captivated the crowds with her inspired, dogged tennis as she cut down a succession of superstars in a breakout Grand Slam performance.

Of her wins over Naomi Osaka, Angelique Kerber, Elina Svitolina and Aryna Sabalenka to reach the final, which was her biggest highlight?

Leylah Fernandez celebrates her US Open semifinal win against Aryna Sabalenka
Leylah Fernandez celebrates after beating world No.2 Aryna Sabalenka in the US Open semifinals. (Getty Images)

“I can't decide. There is just too many matches that I've played, that I've done well,” answered Fernandez, who beat six current or former top-20 players en route to the final, including three of the world’s top five.

“I can't decide which one is going to be in the highlight reel. I can just say I'm proud of myself and happy with the way I fought.”

Her ability to back up each of those big wins – the last four of which came in compelling three-setters – was a major takeaway from US Open campaign she described more than once as “magical”.

“I think the most important lesson that I've learned is how to recuperate after so many great wins in a row,” she said.

“After every win I was so happy, so excited. I just wanted to go back on court and play again. I was very lucky to have a great team behind me telling me to calm down, enjoy this win now tonight, then the very next day let's get back to work.

“I'm glad that I had that opportunity to learn, to actually know how to organise myself in these moments.”

“One thing that really surprised me was that the more that I'm outgoing on court and that I try to get the crowd involved, the more I'm playing well."
Leylah Fernandez

As she was seeing off the world’s best, she learned something else about herself – an ability to interact with the New York crowds.

Fans returned at 100 per cent capacity to this year’s US Open and they fell in love with the Canadian teenager, cheering wildly as Fernandez brought her best to the big stage.

This atmosphere reached a crescendo in her crackling night-time semifinal against Aryna Sabalenka, and after beating the world No.2 7-6(3) 4-6 6-4, she thanked them for “fighting for me” and helping her to victory.

And the standing ovation they gave her as she prepared to deliver her runner-up speech was extraordinary, lasting almost an entire minute.

“One thing that really surprised me was that the more that I'm outgoing on court and that I try to get the crowd involved, the more I'm playing well. Usually when I was younger, I'd try to be as calm as possible, just like Federer,” Fernandez said.

“I'm glad that I've discovered that of myself, that I play a lot better when I'm more… not motivated, but when I'm more outgoing and when I'm using the crowd to my advantage.”

They cheered for her passionately on Saturday, but ultimately, Raducanu was too steady, powerful and composed at the final hurdle.

“Emma is a very good player. She's been playing incredibly these last few months with a lot of confidence. I unfortunately today did one too many mistakes. I think Emma noticed it and she just took advantage of it,” Fernandez reflected.

“I am still disappointed. I think this loss, I'm going to carry it for a very long time. (But) I think it will motivate me to do better in training, better for the next opportunity I get.

“I'm very happy with myself, with the way I competed, and the play I played, the way I acted on court the past two weeks. I've improved a lot not only tennis-wise but emotionally and mentally.

“Next year hopefully it will be just as good.”

Leylah Fernandez (L) poses with the finalist's trophy after falling to Emma Raducanu (R) in the 2021 US Open final. (Getty Images)