Two teenage girls who were barely known to even the most avid tennis fans before this US Open will battle it out for the singles championship on Saturday in what has to be the most unlikely match for a Grand Slam final since the start of the tournament. modern era of tennis. than 50 years ago.
On a shocking Thursday night that would have been shocking if Britain’s Emma Raducanu and Canada’s Leylah Fernandez hadn’t pulled the rabbits out of their hats for nearly two weeks, the two teenage sensations once again toppled seasoned pros who exist in another stratosphere in the world rankings.
First, Fernandez outlived second-seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, in straight sets, 7-6 (3), 4-6, 6-4, in a nervous and error-filled match that saw both players pass up their chances to put the battle ahead long before Sabalenka ends with one final flurry of double faults. It was Fernandez’s fourth straight three-set victory over one of the world’s 20 best players.
Then Raducanu took the stage at Arthur Ashe Stadium and did what she’s been doing for over a week, blitzing much more accomplished players and making them play their worst matches of the tournament. Raducanu ambushed Greece’s Maria Sakkari, 17th seed, 6-1, 6-4.
Raducanu, ranked 150th in the world, had to play three games in the qualifying tournament just to get into the main draw. Including those three matches, she has now faced nine opponents in New York and has yet to give up a set. She is the first qualifier to reach the US Open final in the Open era.
Raducanu, 18, and Fernandez, 19, captivated crowds in New York and breathed new life into the women’s tour which struggles to cope with the loss of its biggest star, Serena Williams, due to the age and injury, and her most recent one, Naomi Osaka, to her struggles with mental illness.
Then came Fernandez, the Canadian teen sensation, advancing to the final.
With Steve Nash, the NBA Hall of Fame and Nets coach watching from his dressing room, and all of Canada and seemingly all of New York in his corner, 73rd-ranked Fernandez went on a mind-blowing run that included wins in the second, third, fifth and 16th seeds of the tournament. She beat Osaka and Angelique Kerber, the winners of seven combined Grand Slam titles, and then beat Elina Svitolina, who is considered one of the best players to ever win a Grand Slam tournament.
Then came Sabalenka, one of the biggest hitters in the world and his second player. At 23, she seemed ready this year to take a new step in her development. She never made a Grand Slam final, but lost in the semifinals at Wimbledon and backed that up with another last four trip to the US Open.
In Fernandez, however, Sabalenka met a player who seems to have convinced herself that she cannot be beaten, that if she can just keep bringing the ball back over the net with her power, spin and cunning, the match will break. his path.
August 31, 2021, 10:07 PM ET
It took two hours and 21 minutes for that moment to come, when she finished the win, thanks to two untimely double faults from Sabalenka and one final error out of the court.
Nothing impossible, Fernandez said at a post-match press conference. There is no limit to what I can do.
Fernandez became the second Canadian teenager in three years to advance to the US Open final, following in the footsteps of Bianca Andreescu, who beat Williams to win the championship in 2019.
Like Andreescu, Fernandez has reached the top seemingly out of nowhere. Although she has gradually risen through the ranks over the past three years, she has given little indication that she is about to make a breakthrough of this magnitude.
Fernandez came out nervous, lost his serve and lost 3-0 in the first set. Soon after, however, she had settled in and proved to be the perfect foil for Sabalenkas’ high-octane play that leaves little room for error. When Sabalenka doesn’t connect, she beats balls in the bottom half of the net or watches them sail five and six feet past the baseline, then waves her arms in frustration.
There were plenty of them Thursday night.
I wouldn’t say she did something. I would say I destroyed myself, Sabalenka said at the end of a frustrating night.
Sabalenka appeared to progress steadily with a 4-2 lead in the first set, but then made a series of mistakes to get Fernandez back into the set, including a double fault on a game point.
At the crucial moment of the first set tie-breaker, with Fernandez holding a 4-3 lead, Sabalenka missed a bad pass, double faulted, and then bounced a serve from Fernandez on set in the net.
The second set seemed to be a carbon copy of the first. An early break for Sabalenka, then neglect to let Fernandez get back into the frame. But Fernandez then broke down in Game 9, giving Sabalenka a chance to serve the set. She twirled her arms, begging for support from the pro-Fernandez mob.
In the third set they went, exchanging serve plays halfway through, when Fernandez, holding a 3-2 lead, let Sabalenka get in trouble and then blocked one of Sabalenkas’ toughest serves. night and watched Sabalenkas shoot long float. But Fernandez struggled with prosperity, leaving Sabalenka to break his back, and a game later the score was 4-4.
But Fernandez remained calm, and a match later left Sabalenka to take care of the business for her. Eventually, things work out for this teenager, at least at this US Open.
Sakkari, semi-finalist at Roland Garros, also served Raducanu. Like Sabalenka, Sakkari rarely sees a ball she doesn’t want to crush, but too often on Thursday night those balls couldn’t find the ground, allowing Raducanu to play a string form of tennis to clinch a spot on the pitch. ‘one of the biggest scenes in sport, against another teenage girl she may have been playing for a very long time.
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