New York — Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez are very similar in many ways. They have enviable speed and expectations. They lower the ball to the ground and easily redirect it. They don’t care how well-known or more successful their enemies are. They love big moments.
There are more. They are both teenagers. Neither is seeded at the US Open. Both of them have great support from the crowd. And now, surprisingly, they are both Grand Slam finalists.
In the championship match at Flushing Meadows on Thursday night, 18-year-old Raducanu (150th) from England and 19-year-old Fernandez (73th) from Canada took a very different path. They will return to Arthur Ashe Stadium on Saturday to return to the first major final between the two teens since the 1999 US Open, when Serena Williams, 17, defeated Martina Hingis, 18.
Raducanu overwhelmed 17-seeded Maria Sakkari 6–1 and 6–4, making it the first qualifying to advance to the professional Grand Slam finals. Raducanu participated in his second major tournament, winning all 18 sets he played in three games in the qualifying round and six games in the main draw.
“I’m taking care of it every day, and three weeks later, three weeks before you know it, I’m in the finals and I can’t believe it,” Raducanu said.
Who can do it? I thought it might be the end of her stay, not Raducanu, who first bought the plane ticket to leave New York after the qualifying.
Soon she led Sakkari 5-0, but nothing changed from there. Sakkari scored seven breakpoints in that span. Raducanu got three. difference? Sakkari couldn’t convert anything. Raducanu took advantage of two opportunities. Alternatively, one was backhanded on the net and the other was a double fault, accepting the generosity of the opponent with two chances.
Ultimately, Raducanu made only 17 unforced errors against Sakkari’s 33 and is now the youngest slam finalist since Maria Sharapova won Wimbledon at the age of 17 in 2004.
Fernandez isn’t that old — her birthday was Monday — and she passed the semi-finals filled with vigorous swings, Edge No. 2 Arina Sabalenka 7–6 (3), 4– Reached 6, 6–4.
“They are both young. They play fearlessly,” Sakkari said of Raducanu and Fernandez. “They have nothing to lose against us.”
Raducanu agreed with the assessment, saying, “Being young, there is an element to play completely free of charge.”
Sakkari is 26 years old and Sabalenka is 23 years old. Each recently made its debut in the Grand Slam semifinals. Sakkari lost the round at the French Open in June and Sabalenka at Wimbledon in July.
“I’m sad,” Sakkari said. “I was so broken that I couldn’t make it to the first final again, but I’m sure it will come someday.”
Wimbledon was Raducanu’s only previous major tournament. She entered through a wildcard entry ranked out of the top 300 and proceeded to the fourth round before stopping in the second set due to dyspnea. Fernandez’s greatest show ever in the slum was to reach the third round at Roland Garros last year.
Earlier Thursday, Sabalenka looked at the controls and claimed to have led 12 of the first 14 points 3-0. Only eight minutes have passed and most of the spectators haven’t sat down yet. Only later, more than 20,000 people on the stand said, “Let’s go, Leila! Let’s go!” With rhythmic applause.
“No matter what I do on the court, I’m glad that the fans love it, and I love it too,” Fernandez said. “I say it’s magic.”
At the end of the first and third sets, it was Sabalenka who kept things away from her. In the last match, I double-faulted twice in a row to set match points and sailed the forehand for a long time.
“This is what we call pressure,” Sabalenka said.
Apparently, Fernandez didn’t feel it. It didn’t fluctuate. And why is she at this point? Her calm, like Raducanu, is as endless as their possibilities.
This is a left-handed Fernandez winning three sets in a row against a seeded opponent four times in a row. Naomi Osaka, the third-placed US Open champion in 2018 and 2020, first appeared. After that, the 2016 champion No. 16 Angelique Kerber appeared. Next is Elina Svitolina and Sabalenka in 5th place.
“There is no limit to what I can do,” said Fernandez, who was able to give Canada his second US Open Women’s title after the 2019 Bianca Andreesque victory.
Both Raducanu and Fernandez are very citizens of the world.
Raducanu was born in Toronto to a Chinese mother and a Romanian father. The family moved to England when Emma was two years old.
Fernandez was born in Montreal to a Filipino Canadian mother and an Ecuadorian father. After Leila’s success as a junior at the age of 12, the family moved to Florida. Daddy is also her coach, but in New York she provides coaching tips in daily phone conversations rather than with her.
Perhaps he told his daughter to let Sabalenka make all the mistakes with a tiebreaker. Because that happened at the end of the first set. Sabalenka rose 2–0 and then went completely lost. All the points Fernandez earned are due to Sabalenka’s mistakes.
“I don’t say she did anything,” Sabalenka said. “I would say I would destroy myself.”
In the second set, Sabalenka regained her shape and Fernandez took a step back. But by the third, it was the time of Fernandez’s brilliance.
“Now she [a] “Top 10 players,” Sabalenka said. “We will see how good she will be in the future.”
Raducanu and Fernandez met for the first time when they played in tournaments under the age of 12 and united through a common connection with Canada. On Saturday, they will share the court for the first time in a tour-level match.
However, they played in the second round of the 2018 Wimbledon Junior Tournament.
Raducanu won. Three years later, they will play again — on a more spectacular stage, and far more at stake.