The 2021 US Open was missing some of its biggest names. There was no Serena or Venus or Rafa or Roger. But that’s okay because there is Leylah and Emma.
On Saturday, the two teenagers — the just-turned-19 Leylah Fernandez and the 18-year-old Emma Raducanu — will face off for the Grand Slam crown.
“I think one word that really stuck to me is ‘magical’ because not only is my run really good but also the way I’m playing right now,” said the Canadian Fernandez after she beat World No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka in three sets in the semifinals. “I’m just having fun, I’m trying to produce something for the crowd to enjoy. I’m glad that whatever I’m doing on court, the fans are loving it and I’m loving it, too. We’ll say it’s magical.”
Magical is definitely a good word for it as the Laval, Que., native has been playing fearless, big-time tennis. She’s been painting lines with whipping left-handed forehands, strong service games and a tenacity seen in players twice her age. Over the course of the last two weeks she sent defending champion Naomi Osaka , 2016 champ Angelique Kerber, fifth-seed Elina Svitolina and No. 2-ranked Sabalenka home. That’s three top-5 seeds — two former No. 1’s — if you weren’t keeping track.
Now she is the elder statesman, facing off the Toronto-born, Great Britain-raised Raducanu. The first qualifier to reach a Grand Slam final in the Open Era — yep, she had to win three matches to make the main draw — hasn’t dropped a single set since she hit Flushing, Queens. Along the way she knocked off Shelby Rogers (who toppled No. 1 Ash Barty) , Belinda Bencic and Maria Sakkari in the last three rounds.
“Honestly, I just can’t believe it. A shock. Crazy. All of the above,” said Raducanu after she won her semis against Sakkari. “But, yeah, it means a lot to be here in this situation. I wanted obviously to, like, be playing Grand Slams, but I didn’t know how soon that would be. To be in a Grand Slam final at this stage of my career, yeah, I have no words.”
The pair, who actually met in the 2018 Wimbledon girls’ singles Round of 16 with Raducanu winning 6-2, 6-4, are now on the precipice of their first-ever Grand Slam title. Kind of a shocker these are the last two standing considering Fernandez entered the US Open ranked 73rd in the WTA singles rankings while Raducanu came in at 150th. It marks the first meeting of two teenagers in the final since Serena Williams beat Martina Hingis in New York in 1999.
Two years ago, Bianca Andreescu became the first Canadian to win a Grand Slam singles title. Just two short years later, there’s another woman storming the grounds of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. She’ll face a tough opponent in Raducanu. Sporting News has all the action as the two teens battle it out for their first Grand Slam title in the 2021 US Open final.
Emma Raducanu def. Leylah Fernandez, 6-4, 6-3
Match results, highlights from 2021 US Open women’s final
Second set: Raducanu wins 6-3
The tennis these two women are playing is amazing. Fernandez gets a break point as she makes Raducanu run all over the baseline before the Brit can’t make the return shot. On the same play, when Raducanu chased down the ball, she skidded and scraped her left knee on the court. With blood running down Raducanu’s knee, the trainer has to come out to bandage her up and it is a medical timeout. Fernandez not happy with the timeout is seen mildly arguing with an official as Raducanu’s knee is heavily bandaged.
On the first point back, Fernandez ends a rally with a forehand long and the game goes to deuce. The next point, Fernandez with an amazing stretch shot to keep the point going ends up winning the point after Raducanu sends a shot long. But Raducanu gets it back to deuce with her own saving shot.
Championship point No. 3 for Raducanu after Fernandez hits a back way long. And she finishes it off with authority and an ace out wide.
Raducanu leads 5-3
Championship point for Raducanu after Fernandez’s shot hits the tape and stays on her side of the court for once. But the Brit (maybe battling some nerves?) hits the shot wide and the game is leveled at deuce. Then, after a rally, she hits the backhander into the net and it is an advantage for Fernandez — but she couldn’t convert. Another championship point for Raducanu, and she hits the forehand into the net. The Canadian fights back and thanks to a forehand winner down the line and Raducanu hitting the ball into the net, she says: “I’m not done yet.”
Raducanu leads 5-2
The Brit is playing confident tennis. Serving to go up 5-2 she wins the game as Fernandez’s backhand goes long.
Raducanu leads 4-2
Raducanu is feeling it now as she takes a 15-40 lead. The crowd is trying to push Fernandez and she gets one break back. But on the next point, Fernandez goes for the short ball and Raducanu with the beautiful forehand passing shot winner.
Raducanu leads 3-2
The 18-year-old holds and things are back on serve between two women playing high-quality and risk-taking tennis. Both are painting the lines in this one. They may be young and playing in their first-ever Grand Slam final, but they have nerves of steel.
Raducanu gets a break point chance as her short crosscourt backhander clips the line. She converts with a backhand return winner.
Fernandez leads 2-1
Another net cord shot that Raducanu can’t get back over the net and now Fernandez has two break points. But, the Brit gets the first one back as she hits the ball deep and Fernandez can’t handle the shot. Then she levels it at deuce, and gets the ad in too, with two strong serves Fernandez gets a racquet on but cannot return. Fernandez, however, who has the crowd behind her, ends up breaking Raducanu to take the lead in the second set.
Fernandez trails 0-40 but continues to play fearlessly. She hits a forehand near the sideline that Raducanu has trouble returning, a backhand winner close to the line and fires off a serve the 18-year-old can’t return to get it to deuce. She then gets the advantage and the game after Raducanu can’t handle two straight serves.
Raducanu leads 1-0
Raducanu holds easily on five points to start the second set.
First set: Raducanu wins 6-4
A big backhand crosscourt return by Raducanu gives her two break point chances to take the first set. She misses on the first opportunity after sending a groundstroke long. She misses on the second as she sends a running lob over Fernandez but wide. Raducanu gets another set point as Fernandez hits the ball long at deuce, but she gives it right back with a backhand return into the net off a second serve. Now her fourth set point and she comes through with a winner down the line after a couple of crosscourt shots opened the court.
Raducanu leads 5-4
Both players on the run during a rally (fifth point) that ends with Raducanu letting a Fernandez backhander go long — and it sails long by maybe an inch. On the next point, Fernandez sends a forehand long and Raducanu is now just a game away from taking the opening set. Reminder: she hasn’t lost a set since the start of qualifying.
Another game goes to deuce but Fernandez holds thanks to her 11th winner of the set. Raducanu, by comparison, has eight winners.
Raducanu leads 4-3
A big forehand down the line winner for Raducanu — she may have been off the ground when she hit it. She fist pumps and yells after as she takes a 40-30 lead in the game. The pair then trade groundstrokes before Raducanu runs Fernandez across the baseline leading to her unable to get the forehand back.
Sloppy game from Raducanu as she has three unforced errors before Fernandez’s game point hits the tape and falls just over the net. She puts her hands up and smiles as she knows she had some luck there.
Raducanu leads 3-2
Raducanu holds and retakes the lead after Fernandez went up 0-30.
Fernandez holds off Raducanu. She led 40-0 before the Brit grabbed two points; however, the feisty Canadian fired off a big serve down the line that Raducanu could not handle to even the opening set.
Raducanu leads 2-1
Back on serve after another game goes to multiple deuces (three). Raducanu had held 19 service games in a row (dating back to her semifinal match) before she hit a backhand unforced error to give Fernandez the break.
Raducanu leads 2-0
Fernandez looking nervous as she double faults to go down 0-30 and then hits a forehand unforced error to give Raducanu three break points. But the Canadian mounts a come back to even it at deuce. After five deuces, Raducanu comes through on her sixth break point as Fernandez cannot handle the return.
Raducanu leads 1-0
Raducanu serving to start things off. Fernandez wins the first point but Raducanu takes the opening game with a backhand crosscourt winner.
4:10 p.m. — Players take the court. The cheers for Fernandez are slightly louder.
3:50 p.m. — After her quarterfinal win over Elina Svitolina in the 2021 US Open, Fernandez was asked what they were feeding the Canadian players that had them playing such inspiring tennis. The just-turned 19-year-old responded, on cue: “I would say it’s the maple syrup.”
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