New York is a city full of dreamers and made up of those who aspire to achieve greatness. For two teenagers, one from Great Britain and one from Canada, those dreams are coming true right in front of our eyes at the 2021 U.S. Open in Queens.
Leylah Fernandez, who turned 19 earlier this week, and Emma Raducanu, who will turn 19 in November, will meet in the U.S. Open finals on Saturday afternoon, a championship match that one way or the other will result in a remarkable champion hoisting the trophy.
“To play Leylah on Saturday, it will be a tough match for sure,” said Raducanu. “She’s playing great tennis. But I think I’m also playing very good tennis. Yeah, I’m excited to go out there. I’m sure there will be a good atmosphere for both of us.”
Raducanu, who is the first qualifier ever to reach a major final, downed 17th seed Maria Sakkari of Greece 6-1, 6-4 on Thursday night, saving all seven break points she faced en route to the straight sets victory.
Raducanu’s win came soon after Fernandez held off second-seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus 7-6(3), 4-6, 6-4 to book her spot in the championship match.
“It was definitely a very good match from both of us. She started incredibly well in the beginning, but I'm just glad I was able to stay patient, fight for every point,” said Fernandez. “I was glad in the tiebreaker I was able to be offensive but not overly playing and go for my shots. The second set I had my chances, but I did a few mistakes. She jumped on the opportunity to get the set. In the third, it was just a good battle. We went till the end. I was glad I was able to put that one more ball back in.”
Both players have showed poise and have handled the pressures of playing inside big stadiums inside New York City to knock off some of the highest-ranked players on tour, some of whom were former major champions.
While each had high expectations for themselves, to be in a Slam final this early in their professional careers is something that even they may not have thought was possible.
Emma Raducanu is the first qualifier to reach a Slam final in the Open Era. (Photo Credit: Darren Carroll/USTA)
“It means everything to me to be here in the main draw first of all, then in the final of the Grand Slam, the US Open,” said Raducanu. “I always had dreams of playing in Grand Slams, but I just didn't know when they would come. To come this early, at this point in my career, I've only really been on tour for a month, two months since Wimbledon. It's pretty crazy to me.”
“I think I’ve been doing some incredible things. I don’t know. It’s like I think one word that really stuck out to me was ‘magical’, because not only is my run really good, but also the way I’m playing right now. 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.”
It’s fitting that these young players are living out their dreams right here in New York City. Raducanu was actually born in Toronto to a Romanian father and Chinese mother, before moving to England when Emma was just two-years-old; Fernandez was born to an Ecuadorian father and Canadian mother of Filipino descent.
While the similarities between their upbringing and even their tennis styles end there, the convergence of two players from mixed-race backgrounds competing in the finals of the major championship in New York City is a fitting conclusion.
The differences in their education and approach to their professional tennis careers is interesting as well. Raducanu has spent the last year or so balancing tennis and school, even taking a break from tennis during the pandemic to focus on her studies. For Fernandez, turning professional was always the goal, and something she had known for awhile she wanted to do.
“I think the obvious one is that a lot of people doubted me, my family and my dreams. They kept saying no, that I'm not going to be a professional tennis player, that I should stop and just pursue going to school. I remember one teacher, which was actually very funny - at the time wasn't, but now I'm laughing,” said Fernandez. “She told me to stop playing tennis, you will never make it, and just focus on school. You know what, I'm just glad that she told me that because every day I have that phrase in my head saying that I'm going to keep going, I'm going to push through, and I'm going to prove to her everything that I've dreamed of I'm going to achieve them.”
The two will now culminate their magical runs in Queens by competing in the first all-teenager U.S. Open final since Serena Williams defeated Martina Hingis in 1999. The future of tennis is happening right now, and will be on display inside Arthur Ashe Stadium on Saturday evening.