Before Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez became stars and the new faces of the US Open, tournament history centered on who wasn’t playing.
The US Open succeeded in its marketing campaign slogan for this year’s tournament, a return to normal: “The Biggest Comeback”. But for the accompanying images – featuring many recent Open champions – a “let” had to be called.
Ranked 150th in the world, Emma Raducanu had to compete in the US Open qualifying rounds a week before the main draw to secure her place. Raducanu won three matches to reach the main draw, followed by six more to advance to the final, becoming the first player in history to reach a major final as a qualifier.
While many players would look haggard after nine games in a tournament, Raducanu looks fit and happy, helped by her incredible efficiency on the pitch. Raducanu have won all nine of their straight sets, never needing a tiebreaker so much in any of the 18 sets.
In a single set, in the second round of qualifying against Mariam Bolkvadze, her opponent reached five games. Bolkvadze led with Raducanu on serve at 4-5, 0-30, and was two points away from winning the second set, only for Raducanu to collect 12 consecutive points to end the game.
Remarkably, despite three more matches, Raducanu spent less time on the pitch than Fernandez at this US Open, totaling 11 hours and 34 minutes in nine matches, compared to 12 hours and 45 minutes for Fernandez in six matches.
As Raducanu rolled, Leylah Fernandez fought, beating some of the game’s toughest players in straight-set battles. After winning her first two games against the previous quarter-finals Ana Konjuh and Kaia Kanepi, Fernandez knocked out defending champion Naomi Osaka in straight sets in the third round. Osaka, the third seed, served for the game at 6-5 in the second set, but Fernandez broke and fled with the tiebreaker in the second set as Osaka unraveled.
In the fourth round, Fernandez defeated 2016 US Open champion Angelique Kerber in straight sets. In the quarterfinals, Fernandez defeated fifth seed Elina Svitolina in a tiebreaker in the third set. In the semifinals, Fernandez beat second seed Aryna Sabalenka in three sets.
“It helped me open my eyes to the fact that I have no limit to my potential,” Fernandez said of his race. “I can play three sets against these players, I can play against these top players and I can win against these top players.”
Although Fernandez paid a higher physical toll to reach the final, she will be a part of it in combat much more. She’s proven what she can do deep in a third set of an important game, while Raducanu’s response in these situations remains largely unknown.
The US Open women’s final is perhaps the most surprising Grand Slam final in tennis history, featuring two unranked teenage girls, the first of whom qualified to play in an Open-era final.
Leylah Fernandez, who turned 19 this week, and her opponent Emma Raducanu, 18, were the thrills of a US Open that started without many of tennis’s most important stars. Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Serena and Venus Williams were forced to skip the tournament due to injuries. Fernandez, from Canada, and Raducanu, from Great Britain, kind of filled the void. Their tennis and contagious personalities were nothing but shows.
Saturday, September 11 at 4 p.m. EST.
In the USA
On ESPN and streamed on the ESPN app.
On TSN and streamed on the TSN app.