U.S. Open Updates: Teenagers Face Off for Women’s Singles Title

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Sept. 11, 2021, 5:32 p.m. ET

Sept. 11, 2021, 5:32 p.m. ET

Christopher Clarey

Break points saved: Raducanu — 3 of 4, Fernandez — 11 of 13, including three in that last game. It has been a terrific final so far, one in which both players have performed well in this brand new environment and are showing some of their best tennis.

Sept. 11, 2021, 5:25 p.m. ET

Sept. 11, 2021, 5:25 p.m. ET

Credit…Ben Solomon for The New York Times

Continuing a streak that began in the qualifying draw, Emma Raducanu won her 19th consecutive set at this U.S. Open in style, but it was a battle like none have been before for her.

The 18-year-old from Britain earned double set point with her opponent, Leylah Fernandez, serving at 4-5, hitting a sharply angled cross-court backhand return winner off a slow Fernandez second serve.

Raducanu missed her first set point opportunity by pushing a backhand long, and couldn’t make a difficult backhand lob on the run on her second opportunity.

Raducanu earned a third set point when Fernandez missed a forehand long, but missed her backhand return into the net.

She got a fourth set point chance by stepping around her backhand and cracking a strong inside-out forehand which Fernandez could not corral with her forehand. The fourth time was the charm for Raducanu, who bent low to rifle a forehand winner down the line into the open court, ending the set after 58 minutes.

Raducanu turned to the crowd and raised her arms, encouraging them to amplify their already ample applause for the display they have seen from both teenagers today.

Fernandez left the court after the set for a break; Raducanu stayed in her seat and enjoyed some snacks.

Sept. 11, 2021, 5:15 p.m. ET

Sept. 11, 2021, 5:15 p.m. ET

Ben Rothenberg

Raducanu and Fernandez have stayed on serve, with Raducanu inching ahead at 5-4. Still, Fernandez is making her work like no opponent has so far this tournament. Raducanu has not lost a set during her nine previous matches here, and has not had any set before today in the main draw last longer than 51 minutes.

Sept. 11, 2021, 5:05 p.m. ET

Sept. 11, 2021, 5:05 p.m. ET

Ben Rothenberg

Raducanu and Fernandez remain on serve in the first set, with Raducanu leading 4-3. Raducanu pulled ahead in the seventh game with an inside-in forehand winner, punctuated with a scream of “Come on!” Though only broken once so far, Fernandez’s serve has been shaky. She has only landed 44 percent of her first serves, compared with 63 percent for Raducanu.

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Credit…Ben Solomon for The New York Times

Sept. 11, 2021, 4:54 p.m. ET

Sept. 11, 2021, 4:54 p.m. ET

Ben Rothenberg

After trading breaks, Fernandez and Raducanu exchanged fairly routine holds to stay on serve with Raducanu leading 3-2 in the first set. The two are fairly level in most statistical categories early on, both having struck six winners. Both are also pouncing on the other’s second serves, which will put landing first serves at a premium in this match.

Sept. 11, 2021, 4:45 p.m. ET

Sept. 11, 2021, 4:45 p.m. ET

Ben Rothenberg

Fernandez broke Raducanu right back in the third game to get herself on the board at 1-2 in the first set, converting on her fourth break point opportunity and roaring “C’monnnnn!” when Raducanu’s backhand hit the net.

The players have dug into long battles early in this match: Fans who were late getting to their seats before the first serve had to wait up to 23 long minutes in the tunnels before being allowed to enter the seating bowl on the first changeover break.

Sept. 11, 2021, 4:43 p.m. ET

Sept. 11, 2021, 4:43 p.m. ET

Credit…Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Raducanu and Fernandez weren’t the only teenagers competing for big prizes at the U.S. Open today.

Robin Montgomery, a 17-year-old lefty from Washington, D.C., won the girls’ singles title with a 6-2, 6-4 victory over Kristina Dmitruk, 17, of Belarus.

Montgomery has trained at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Md., the same facility that developed the men’s player Frances Tiafoe.

Last year, when the U.S. Open’s junior tournaments were canceled because of pandemic restrictions, Montgomery competed in the women’s draw as a wild card. She will compete for the girls’ doubles title later today with her partner, Ashlyn Krueger.

The U.S. Open boys’ singles title was won by Daniel Rincon, 18, of Spain, who prevailed, 6-2, 7-6(6), against the top-seeded Shang Juncheng, 16, of China.

Sept. 11, 2021, 4:37 p.m. ET

Sept. 11, 2021, 4:37 p.m. ET

Credit…Ben Solomon for The New York Times

The Guardian newspaper in Britain calls Emma Raducanu, the British tennis star, “focused, fearless, unflappable.”

In Toronto, The Globe and Mail notes of Leylah Fernandez: “The youngster from Laval, Que., has turned the WTA Tour on its ear in Flushing Meadows.”

The two unseeded teenagers, Raducanu 18, and Fernandez, 19, have become international sensations, especially back in their home countries. Raducanu was born in Toronto to a Romanian father and Chinese mother and moved to England when she was 2.

Fernandez was born in Montreal, about two months before Raducanu, to an Ecuadorean father and a mother from Toronto, whose parents immigrated to Canada from the Philippines.

Fernandez and Raducanu are meeting in the U.S. Open women’s final — the first all-teen final since 1999 — and celebrities have taken note.

If you haven’t seen the most exciting player at the US Open, 19-year old Leylah Fernandez, you’re truly missing out!! She just beat her 3rd ranked opponent and is on fire 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥. She’s captivating the world! @leylahfernandez

— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) September 7, 2021

“The Giant Slayer continues!!” Magic Johnson, the Hall of Fame basketball star, tweeted after Fernandez beat the second-seeded Aryna Sabalenka in a semifinal. Before that, Johnson told followers that if they hadn’t yet seen Fernandez play, they were “truly missing out.” Cassidy Hubbarth, an ESPN anchor of Filipino descent, tweeted out a series of Philippine flag emojis.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain weighed in, calling Raducanu’s semifinal win over Maria Sakkari “brilliant,” on his Twitter account and adding, “The whole country will be cheering you on in the final.”

Justin Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada, who is in the middle of an election campaign, also said his country was rooting for Fernandez.

The Canadian Maple Syrup cartel had to be thrilled, too. After a win, Fernandez joked on court that the sweet Canadian export was the key to the success of her and her compatriots, including Felix Auger-Aliassime, who reached a men’s semifinal; Bianca Andreescu, who won the tournament in 2019; and the rising Denis Shapovalov. Not bad for a country with a population about 10 percent as large as the United States.

Aleksandra Wozniak, one of the first Canadian women to break through and become a tennis sensation, tweeted, “Canada, you have a new star!”

Naturally, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge sent regards to Raducanu. Kate Middleton is a well-known tennis fan and a regular in the Royal Box at Wimbledon each year.

Because of their connections to the Philippines and China, the young finalists are receiving support from many fans in Asia.

Jorge Fernandez, Leylah’s father and coach, said he reached out to one of the Filipino community organizations in Montreal that helped his family when Leylah was young. He said that, with everything going on, people there were surprised to hear from him. But he felt it was important.

“I’m glad that they’re touching the Asian community,” he said of both players. “I think that’s a huge opportunity in the women’s game just to be able to expand and have a new style.”

Sept. 11, 2021, 4:36 p.m. ET

Sept. 11, 2021, 4:36 p.m. ET

Ben Rothenberg

The second game of the match was already an entrenched 16-point battle, finally ending with Raducanu breaking on her sixth break point opportunity for a 2-0 lead. She shouted “Let’s go!” as Fernandez missed a forehand.

Sept. 11, 2021, 4:26 p.m. ET

Sept. 11, 2021, 4:26 p.m. ET

Credit…Ben Solomon for The New York Times

Though tennis was once considered an exclusively white country club sport, the meeting between Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez reflects the sport’s increasing diversity, particularly on the women’s side. In nine of the last 11 women’s singles finals at the U.S. Open, there has been at least one woman of color.

Fernandez was born in Montreal to a mother whose parents were from the Phillipines and an Ecuadorean father. She speaks English, Spanish, and French fluently. Raducanu was born in Toronto to a Chinese mother and a Romanian father before moving to London as a toddler.

A Japanese reporter asked Raducanu after her match if she saw parallels among herself, Fernandez, and the reigning U.S. Open champion, Naomi Osaka, who has a Japanese mother as part of her multicultural background.

“I think for me, having a Chinese mom, she definitely instilled from a young age hard work, discipline,” Raducanu said.

Raducanu said she also drew inspiration from Li Na of China, who became the first Asian player to claim a major women’s singles title when she won the French Open in 2011.

“She had extremely good weapons — her movement, her mentality — but her inner strength and belief really stood out for me,” Raducanu said of Li. She said she recalled watching Li defeat Francesca Schiavone of Italy in the 2011 French final, a tight, two-set battle.

“That was definitely a long, tough match,” Raducanu said. “But the amount of mental strength and resilience she showed, that match still sticks in my head today.”

Sept. 11, 2021, 4:04 p.m. ET

Sept. 11, 2021, 4:04 p.m. ET

Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

It’s not about money for the unlikely U.S. Open finalists Leylah Fernandez and Emma Raducanu. But the money certainly won’t hurt.

Before the tournament, Fernandez had earned $786,772 in official prize money during her short career. Raducanu had earned $303,376 in her even shorter career, most of it from reaching the fourth round at Wimbledon in her Grand Slam debut in July.

Those numbers are about to change dramatically. The winner today will earn $2.5 million, the runner-up $1.25 million. Those figures do not account for the sponsorships and other commercial deals that Fernandez, a Canadian, and Raducanu, who is British, will most likely sign because of their attention-grabbing runs in New York.

Before the final, Raducanu said that her biggest title so far had come two years ago at a tournament in India where the total prize money was $25,000. The U.S. Open’s total purse this year: $57.5 million.

Speaking of Raducanu, Tim Crow, a sports marketing consultant, told The Guardian that he “hadn’t had this many calls from clients, major brands, who are interested in her since Lewis Hamilton broke through in Formula One. If she wins, she will become one of the hottest properties in British sport, if not the hottest.”

Tennis has a global fan base, but Raducanu’s and Fernandez’s multicultural backgrounds could add to their global appeal. Raducanu was born in Canada and has a Romanian father and Chinese mother. Fernandez’s mother’s parents immigrated to Canada from the Philippines, and her father was born in Ecuador.

Sept. 11, 2021, 3:57 p.m. ET

Sept. 11, 2021, 3:57 p.m. ET

Credit…Jamie Squire/Allsport, via Getty Images

When Fernandez won the first semifinal on Thursday evening, she became the youngest player to reach a Grand Slam singles final since a 17-year-old Maria Sharapova at Wimbledon in 2004. Fernandez was supplanted, less than two hours later, by the even younger Raducanu, who won the second semifinal.

Teen phenoms were a major part of the tennis ecosystem for decades, particularly in the 1980s and ’90s, when Boris Becker, Steffi Graf, Michael Chang, Martina Hingis and Serena Williams all won major titles before their 18th birthdays.

In recent decades, however, the prevailing theory has been that school-age players are too immature, physically and mentally, to handle the rigors of an increasingly demanding sport. Players like Williams, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have racked up major titles well into their 30s, when tennis careers were once considered past their expiration dates.

Today’s match will be the first major final between two teenagers since the 1999 U.S. Open, when a 17-year-old Serena Williams defeated an 18-year-old Martina Hingis for the title.

But that matchup was nowhere near as shocking as this one: Williams was already ranked seventh in the world; Hingis was ranked No. 1, and was playing in the U.S. Open for a third straight year, having already won the tournament in 1997 against Williams’s sister, Venus, who was 17 then.

A breakout run is no guarantee of sustained success in tennis, of course, but it’s a pretty good way to start.

Sept. 11, 2021, 3:52 p.m. ET

Sept. 11, 2021, 3:52 p.m. ET

Credit…John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images

Raducanu said she first met Fernandez at the Orange Bowl tournament in Florida when both were competing in the under-12 division. They found a common bond, Raducanu said, in their shared Canadian birthplaces.

The two teens have not faced each other on the professional tour — Raducanu, particularly, has played very few professional tournaments, and is competing in only her second major — but they did meet in the second round of the Wimbledon girls’ draw in 2018, with Raducanu winning, 6-2, 6-4.

Raducanu said that while the two have not been in close contact in recent years, they remain friendly.

“She’s a really cool person,” Raducanu said of Fernandez, who she said had handed out cupcakes to other players on Monday, her 19th birthday.

Sept. 11, 2021, 3:38 p.m. ET

Sept. 11, 2021, 3:38 p.m. ET

Credit…Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times

While Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez have connections around the globe, they share roots in Canada, a nation better known for winter sports that has become an unlikely hotbed of tennis talent. (While Raducanu represents Britain, she retains a Canadian passport.)

Since 2014, six players representing Canada have reached major singles semifinals: Eugenie Bouchard, Milos Raonic, Bianca Andreescu, Denis Shapovalov, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Fernandez. All but Bouchard have at least one parent who was born outside Canada.

Andreescu became the first of the group to break through to win a major title when she defeated Serena Williams in the U.S. Open final two years ago at age 19. Fernandez, who is based in Boynton Beach, Fla., is hoping to be the second Canadian 19-year-old in the last three years to hoist the trophy in New York.

All of this could be cause for envy on this side of the border: no Americans reached the quarterfinals of either the men’s or women’s singles draws this year for the first time in U.S. Open history. Before that, at least one American had reached the semifinals each year.

Sept. 11, 2021, 3:28 p.m. ET

Sept. 11, 2021, 3:28 p.m. ET

Credit…Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images

During a difficult financial period for Leylah Fernandez’s family, her parents took jewelry and watches to a Montreal pawnshop to help finance tennis training and travel for her and her younger sister, Bianca. It was not easy, but it was done without hesitation.

“When you are asking your children to work hard and sacrifice, you have to show that you are willing to do the same thing,” Leylah’s father, Jorge Fernandez, said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. “We sold our house, I sold my business. These are the things you do to help your children reach their dreams.”

A former journeyman soccer player, who learned tennis by reading and watching videos, Fernandez’s father has coached her since she was a schoolgirl. Although he never played tennis, he said he understands sports and describes himself as a tough, old-fashioned taskmaster.

“I believe in the grind,” he said at a news conference Friday. “I believe in the hard work. I believe in the suffering. If we do that enough, then we get really, really strong.”

Fernandez said that despite the diligence and sacrifice he had demanded of his daughters, Leylah, 19, insisted that he continue to coach her, though he said he would prefer that someone else take over. For now, he keeps the job, and though he is not at the U.S. Open, he still serves as Leylah and Bianca’s technical, strategic and motivational adviser.

The night before Leylah’s matches, they discuss tactics on the phone. The morning of the match they have another call to go over the specifics of her day, including the timing of meals and transportation, how and when she will train and warm up. Then right before the match, they speak on the phone one last time.

“That’s kind of like the father-daughter talk,” he said, and added, “A virtual hug and a kiss.”

That conversation often centers on sentiment and emotion, depending on what Fernandez senses from his daughter. He might tell her just to have fun on court — which is what he said right before she beat the third-seeded Naomi Osaka.

Sometimes, if he senses nerves from his daughter, or fear of the moment, he brings it up, he said, so that she can face the jitters and work through them.

“I know we say she’s just unbelievable with her mind-set right now,” he said. “She shows so much fight. But she is human, and she does feel those emotions.”

Before she takes the court against the 18-year-old Raducanu, Jorge Fernandez plans to motivate his daughter by acknowledging what is at stake in a Grand Slam final.

“Let’s leave it all on the table,” he said. “Let’s sweat it all out. Let’s make sure that no matter how it finishes, there are no regrets.”

Early in the tournament, when Fernandez beat Osaka and then the 16th-seeded Angelique Kerber — then No. 5 Elina Svitolina and No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka — many assumed that her fitness trainer, Duglas Cordero, who was sitting next to her mother, was her father.

But Jorge Fernandez has remained at home in Florida throughout the tournament to look after Bianca — the family moved to Florida several years ago so that Leylah could train all year on affordable public courts. Fernandez calls himself the “king of the public courts.”

Eventually, as Fernandez advanced through the women’s draw, Bianca flew to New York to join the fun. But Jorge Fernandez did not travel for one important reason: He and his daughter are “extremely superstitious,” he said.

“Look,” he added, “I’ve been using the same shampoo on game day, kind of using the same jeans on game day, I think the same socks and underwear. It’s taken to a completely different level.”

Both father and daughter agree that there is no reason to mess with success. So he will watch the final from home, with the right pair of jeans, the right socks and underwear, and the right shampoo in his hair. His daughter has already been guaranteed $1.25 million, and could take home $2.5 million if she wins. Perhaps they can buy back the watches and jewelry they pawned so many years ago.

Sept. 11, 2021, 2:59 p.m. ET

Sept. 11, 2021, 2:59 p.m. ET

Credit…Charles Sykes/Invision, via Charles Sykes/Invision/Ap

Before Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez became breakout stars and the new faces of the U.S. Open, the story of the tournament focused on who wasn’t playing.

The U.S. Open aced the slogan for its marketing campaign for this year’s tournament, a return to normalcy: “The Greatest Return.” But for the accompanying pictures — featuring many of the Open’s recent champions — a “let” needed to be called.

Sept. 11, 2021, 2:51 p.m. ET

Sept. 11, 2021, 2:51 p.m. ET

Credit…Ben Solomon for The New York Times

Ranked 150th in the world, Emma Raducanu had to play in the qualifying rounds of the U.S. Open a week before the main-draw tournament, in order to secure her spot. Raducanu won three matches to reach the main draw, and then 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 matches in one tournament, Raducanu looks hale and happy, helped by her incredible efficiency on court. Raducanu has won all nine of her matches in straight sets, never needing so much as a tiebreaker in any of the 18 sets.

In only one set, in the second round of qualifying against Mariam Bolkvadze, did her opponent reach five games. Bolkvadze led with Raducanu serving at 4-5, 0-30, and was two points from taking the second set, only for Raducanu to reel off 12 straight points to end the match.

Remarkably, despite playing three more matches, Raducanu has spent less time on court than Fernandez at this U.S. Open, totaling 11 hours and 34 minutes in nine matches, compared with Fernandez’s 12 hours and 45 minutes in six matches.

While Raducanu has rolled, Leylah Fernandez has fought, beating some of the game’s toughest players in three-set battles. After winning her first two matches against the past quarterfinalists Ana Konjuh and Kaia Kanepi, Fernandez knocked out the defending champion, Naomi Osaka, in three sets in the third round. The third-seeded Osaka served for the match at 6-5 in the second set, but Fernandez broke and ran away with the second-set tiebreaker as Osaka unraveled.

In the fourth round, Fernandez beat Angelique Kerber, the 2016 U.S. Open champion, in three sets. In the quarterfinals, Fernandez beat the fifth-seeded Elina Svitolina in a third-set tiebreaker. In the semifinals, Fernandez beat the second-seeded Aryna Sabalenka in three sets.

“It has helped me open my eyes that I have no limit to my potential,” Fernandez said of her run. “I can go three sets against these players, I can play against these top players, and I can win against these top players.”

Though Fernandez has paid a higher physical toll to reach the final, she will enter it far more battle tested. She has proved what she can do deep into a third set of an important match, while Raducanu’s response in those situations remains largely unknown.

Sept. 11, 2021, 2:46 p.m. ET

Sept. 11, 2021, 2:46 p.m. ET

By The New York Times

Credit…Ben Solomon for The New York Times

The U.S. Open women’s final is perhaps the most surprising Grand Slam final in tennis history, featuring two unseeded teenagers, including the first qualifier to play in a final in the Open era.

Leylah Fernandez, who turned 19 this week, and her opponent Emma Raducanu, 18, have been the sensations of a U.S. Open that began without many of the most significant stars in tennis. Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Serena and Venus Williams were forced to skip the tournament because of injuries. Fernandez, of Canada, and Raducanu, of Britain, have somehow filled the void. Their tennis and infectious personalities have been nothing short of show stopping.

Saturday, Sept. 11, at 4 p.m. Eastern time.

On ESPN and streaming on the ESPN app.

On TSN and streaming on the TSN app.

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Credit…Ben Solomon for The New York Times