The US Open has a brand new women’s champion. Tennis has two new stars, teenage dreams for the game. Arthur Ashe Stadium has regained its fans.
Saturday was a day of win, win, win at Flushing Meadows.
Emma Raducanu, the first qualifier to reach the final of a Grand Slam tournament, is now a success without qualifying. She beat her first-time co-finalist Leylah Fernandez, who had her own remarkable run here, 6-4, 6-3, on Saturday.
After the 2020 tournament was played in the empty Billie Jean King National Tennis Center due to the COVID-19 pandemic, crowds returned this year eager to kiss anyone and ended up with two players that they could absolutely love, and they will be able to love them for a long time.
Raducanu, from Great Britain, is 18 years old. Fernandez, from Canada and now living in Boynton Beach, Florida, just turned 19. They are the first teenagers to face each other in the final since Serena Williams defeated Martina Hingis in 1999.
Raducanu must have won three qualifying games just to make the main draw, and she can now say that in three weeks and a total of 10 games, she has never lost a single set at the US Open.
“Thank you New York for supporting me from my first qualifying game until the final,” she told fans.
Fernandez, ranked 73rd in the world, is the winner of a small WTA tournament in Monterrey, Mexico. To secure a spot against Raducanu in the final, she beat, in order, defending Open champion Naomi Osaka, former Open champion and three-time major winner Angelique Kerber, fifth seed Elina Svitolina and second seed Aryna Sabalenka a Wimbledon semi-finalist this year.
Raducanu appeared on the radar at Wimbledon in July, making the fourth round before retiring from the game with difficulty breathing, nerves taking over her. What can you expect from someone who just turned pro?
But neither she nor Fernandez showed signs of nerves on Saturday, no moment of stag in the headlights, no restraint on part of their games. They went to get their services, clubbed their groundstrokes, playing with athleticism and grace (no screams or grunts). Fernandez, who is 5-6, hits well above his weight, ceding three inches to Raducanu.
They were on the biggest stage in tennis, running away. The first three games were hard-fought, taking 22 minutes to play. Raducanu got a break in the second game, then Fernandez fell back in the third. Raducanu got the winning break in the 10th game.
She seemed to be making forays into Fernandez’s game. After holding on to start the second set, she took a 0-40 lead over Fernandez’s serve. But Fernandez, fighting for every point, held on. Then she beat Raducanu on the third and the crowd went mad. Raducanu broke back and got a second break in Game 6. Fernandez fought match points in the eighth game, then Raducanu fought a break point in the ninth to win the game and the title, although there was a bit of fear.
On the point that Fernandez won to get the break chance, Raducanu slipped and grazed his knee on the pitch with blood visible. She had to take a medical time out to get treatment, then came back to serve him.
“I wasn’t praying for a double fault, staying in the moment, focusing on what I had to do, my process,” said Raducanu. “It helped me in the big moments.”
None are likely to be bigger.
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