When it’s one of the greatest things in sport that anything is possible at any time, how can you explain what’s going on in New York? After all, don’t the events of this spectacular US Open in 2021 go far beyond what is normally possible? Leylah Fernandez and Emma Raducanu will appear at Arthur Ashe Stadium this Saturday (10 p.m. CEST on Eurosport) just before 4:30 p.m. local time, for the first two teenagers final since 1999, when Serena Williams beat Martina Hingis.
One is just 19 years old, the other 18. And the world of tennis reacts drunk with enthusiasm for the appearance of the two, who came from the third row and gave the tournament the light of the brightest stars. Perhaps to describe it with the words of Emma Raducanu: “A surprise. A shock. Crazy. All of that together. “
There are different ways in which they flew to the finals with rocket propulsion. Raducanu, who was in 338th place in the world rankings in the summer, then landed in the round of 16 with a wildcard at Wimbledon to the enthusiasm of his compatriots, was in 150th place before the start of the US Open and therefore had to qualify. In a sense, she was an apprentice at the second Grand Slam tournament of her career.
But from the first game of qualification to the victory in the semifinals against Maria Sakkari from Greece (6: 1, 6: 4), the young Englishwoman did not lose a single set and won with a sovereignty that leaves you speechless. “I think,” she says, “when you are young you just play completely free,” and that’s exactly what it looked like.
As if there was nowhere the smallest problem, only the next stroke and the perfect place where the ball should land. She always had the feeling of being able to keep up with other, so far more successful opponents in her best moments. But she wasn’t sure she would be able to extend those best moments to an entire game or several in a row.
Because she won all encounters so confidently and clearly, she spent less time on the pitch than Leylah Fernandez, although she has three more games under her belt, those three in qualifying. The way the young Canadian has won so far has been different, but no less impressive. She defeated, one after the other, in three sets, the two-time US Open winner Naomi Osaka, the winner of the year 2018, Angelique Kerber, and most recently the numbers five and two on the seeding list, Elina Switolina and Aryna Sabalenka (7: 6, 4: 6, 6: 4).
She herself sees it this way: “I think I did a lot of things incredibly well. One word that comes to mind is ‘magical’, not just because of the run I’ve got here, but because of the way I’m playing right now. I have fun and try to give the audience something they can be happy about. “
It is the combination of this joy of playing with an iron-hard determination that makes Leylah Fernandez’s appearance at this US Open an experience. This tournament, she says, opened her eyes to the fact that there are no limits to what she can do. To have to fight a dream, she learned that early on. Also when a teacher advised her a few years ago that she should concentrate on school and quit tennis because nothing could come of it anyway.
Rejection and overcoming difficulties can be quite powerful, an explosive mix combined with big dreams. They certainly already existed on both sides when the two played against each other three years ago at Wimbledon in the second round of the juniors; at that time the younger won in two sets. How will things turn out this time? Two more sentences for Raducanu or three for Fernandez?
For the mood on the planet tennis it doesn’t really matter, because both individually and together the two are already a main prize. If the aim is to get a new, young audience enthusiastic about the game, then this constellation is a hit, also because of the background of both families. Emma Raducanu plays for millions of fans in Great Britain, in China, her mother’s country, and in Romania, her father’s country.
She also has friends in Canada, where she was born, as well as Leylah Fernandez, whose family has Filipino roots and American interpreters since the family lived in Florida. The audience at Arthur Ashe Stadium will likely celebrate and support the contestants in the game for the title in equal measure, which is a nice performance. Aryna Sabalenka was pretty much alone playing Leylah Fernandez in the semifinals, but who can resist these teenagers’ joyous dances?