NEW YORK – Leylah Fernández’s first Grand Slam semifinal at the US Open, just days after his 19th birthday, got off the ground.
The Canadian came out of the hole to go to the front, but her rival Aryna Sabalenka pushed the game to the limit, in an electrifying tug of war in the third set. Fernández was unperturbed.
Why do it at this point? The poise of the tennis player with an Ecuadorian father seems infinite, as does her potential. And there is no opponent, regardless of his record or ranking, that is impossible for him to defeat.
Fast-legged and growing in the decisive moments, Fernández defeated Belarusian Sabalenka 7-6 (3), 4-6, 6-4 – the second-seeded – on Thursday night at Arthur Ashe Stadium and will now go for a Grand Slam title.
Your opponent will be another teenager.
Britain’s Emma Raducanu, 18, ranked 150th, later beat Greece’s Maria Sakkari (17th seed), 6-1, 6-4.
Number 73 of the ladder, Fernández chained his fourth straight victory in three sets against a seeded rival. She first accounted for Naomi Osaka (3rd), the champion of the tournament in 2018 and 2020. She then surpassed Angelique Kerber (16th), the 2016 monarch. Then she left Elina Svitolina (5th) and now Sabalenka on the road.
“They are years and years of hard work, tears and blood,” said Fernández when referring to the secret for the launch of his career. “You have to make sacrifices on and off the court.”
Now, it could give Canada just its second US Open title in the women’s division. The first came just in 2019, with Bianca Andreescu.
Jorge, Fernández’s father, is also her coach, although he is not with her in New York, but instead gives her advice during their daily phone conversations. The mother is Canadian with Filipino roots, and the family currently resides in Florida.
It will certainly be an unprecedented final. In fact, none of the four semi-finalists had ever played a duel for a title in Grand Slam tournaments.
The last time two teens met in a major final was at the 1999 US Open. At the time, 17-year-old Serena Williams defeated 18-year-old Martina Hingis.
Raducanu is the first tennis player in the professional era to reach a Grand Slam final after playing the qualifying phase. Just in his second major, he won all 18 sets that he played in three qualifying matches.
Then, he won six main draw matches.
“Time has moved very fast here in New York. I have just focused on one day at a time,” Raducanu said. “And without realizing it, I’m in the final. I can’t believe it.”
Fernández, who turned 19 just on Monday won a semi-final of ups and downs, in which the public did not stop encouraging her with choruses and applause.
“I’m glad that, no matter what I’m doing on the court, people love it. And so do I,” Fernandez said. “Let’s say it was something magical.”
At the end of the first set and again in the third, it was Sabalenka who allowed control of the match to slip away. In the last game, he committed two double fouls in a row, to give up a match point. Then his forehand shot went really long.
“This is what we know as pressure,” he acknowledged.
On Saturday, Fernández and Raducanu will meet for the first time in a match at the level of the WTA tour. Their most recent duel dates back to the youth category at Wimbledon in 2018.
Raducanu won that second round match. Little more than three years later, he will see Fernández again, with much more at stake.