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It’s a Raducanu v Fernandez dream New York final

Emma Raducanu made history in New York on Thursday night when she became the first qualifier in the Open Era to reach the final of the US Open in both the women’s and men’s singles events of all the Grand Slams, and she can scarcely believe it herself.

Is there any expectation? I’m a qualifier so, technically, there’s no pressure on me. Emma Raducanu

“I’m in the final. I can’t actually believe it,” she said on the court after stunning 17th seeded Maria Sakkari, 6-1 6-4. “A shock. Crazy. All of the above.”

Raducanu is the first British woman to reach a major final since Virginia Wade won Wimbledon in 1977, and is just one match away from becoming the first British female winner at Flushing Meadows since Wade in 1968.

It is hard to fathom that she has dropped only 43 games in the 9 matches she has played through qualifying and the main draw, and she has yet to lose a set on her way to the final.

The 18-year old will face 19-year-old Canadian Leylah Fernandez on Saturday, in the first all-teenage major final since Serena Williams defeated Martina Hingis at the 1999 US Open.

Playing in just her second Grand Slam and making her US Open debut, the Toronto-born Brit has seen off Olympic gold medalist Belinda Bencic in the quarter-finals and Sakkari in the semi-finals.

“I always had dreams of playing in Grand Slams, but I just didn’t know when they would come,” Raducanu said. “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.”

Sakkari had secured her spot in her second major semi-final of the season with Top 10 wins over 2019 champion Bianca Andreescu and World No 4 Karolina Pliskova.

“Leading up to the US Open I had a lot of matches coming in,” Raducanu said. “I played a 125 in Chicago, a 100K the week before. I think I was building with each match.

“Here in the US Open I wasn’t really sure how my level was going to be. In a way my tennis level has surprised me in the way that I’ve managed step up against some of the best players in the world.

“I personally think, inside, I knew I had some sort of level inside of me that was similar to these girls, but I didn’t know if I was able to maintain it over a set or over two sets.

“To be able to do it and play the best players in the world and beat them, I honestly can’t believe it.”

Virginia Wade, who was the last Brit to play a Grand Slam final when she won Wimbledon in 1977, was on hand to see Emma Raducanu make history in New York

© Timothy A Clary/AFP via Getty Images

Sakkari carved out 7 break points across Raducanu’s first 2 service games, but could not convert any of them, while Raducanu broke the Greek in her first service game to 15 and secured a 3-0 lead before racing out to a 5-0.

A change of the Sakkari skirt was of little help as the Greek dropped her serve again and the first set ran away from her as the World No 18 struggled to find her range off the ground and could not conjure up another break point for the remainder of the match.

In the second set, Sakkari gained a little momentum as she battled hard to stay within a break of Raducanu but the Brit came through 2 authoritative service games to hold for 5-3 and, after Sakkari held, then closed it all out after 1 hour 23 minutes with an exquisite volley on match point

Raducanu struck 16 winners to 17 unforced errors, while Sakkari struggled to control the ball, hitting 17 winners to 33 unforced errors.

Serving at 71% first serves in, Raducanu dominated with her deliveries, winning 72% of her first serve and, most impressively, 69% of her second serves, resulting in Sakkari only taking just 29% of her return points in the match.

“She plays fearless,” Sakkari said in her press conference afterwards. “She absolutely goes for it. She does the right thing actually. She has nothing to lose. She’s enjoying herself.

“But we were all absent from the court these days playing against her. I saw Belinda yesterday. I don’t want to speak for her, but I think she would agree with me that we did not bring our best performance.

“I’m sad. I’m very broken that I couldn’t make it to my first final once again. But I’m positive that it will come sometime soon.”

Maria Sakkari was unable to produce her best form against Emma Raducanu's onslaught on Thursday

© Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Saturday’s final will be the first major final in the Open Era to feature two unseeded players.

Raducanu and Fernandez are junior contemporaries but have yet to face off on the pro tour, having played each other once in juniors at the 2018 Wimbledon girls’ event, which Raducanu won 6-2 6-4 in the second round after the Canadian had won the Roland Garros girls’ event just a few weeks earlier.

“We first encountered each other because I was born in Toronto and she was Canadian, so we kind of, like, made a little relationship back then,” Raducanu said. “Then I played her at junior Wimbledon.

“Obviously since then, we’ve both come very far in our games and as people.

“I’m sure it’s going to be extremely different to when we last encountered each other. But we’re both playing good tennis so it will be a good match.”

Two months after bursting onto the scene at Wimbledon ranked 361st in the world, a month after receiving her A level results, and 13 days after entering qualifying in New York, the 18-year-old from Bromley now stands on the brink of one of the most remarkable sporting achievements of all time.

“Honestly the time here in New York has gone so fast,” she said on court. “I’ve just been taking care of each day and three weeks later I’m in the final. I can’t actually believe it.

“Today I wasn’t thinking about anyone else except for myself.

“While I have the moment I want to thank my team and the LTA and everyone at home for all their support. Since I’ve been here, from the first round of the quallies, I’ve had unbelievable support.”

Having completed her latest step towards sporting immortality, she was asked about her expectations for Saturday’s final.

“Is there any expectation?” she replied. “I’m a qualifier so, technically, there’s no pressure on me,” she added with her signature grin.

Leylah Annie Fernandez fell to the court after beating Aryna Sabalenka to reach her first Grand Slam final in New York

© Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Her opponent, Leylah Fernandez is equally stunned to find herself in the final after shocking second seed Aryna Sabalenka, 7-6(3) 6-4 4-6, in a 2 hour 21 minute dramatic battle.

“I have no idea how I won,” Fernandez admitted afterwards.

The Canadian, who turned 19 on Monday, is ranked 73 in the world and has added Sabalenka to the scalps of defending champion Naomi Osaka, 2016 winner Angelique Kerber and 5th seed Elina Svitolina.

The crowd was rocking inside Arthur Ashe Stadium and when Sabalenka sent the final point long, the roar could probably be heard in Fernandez’s hometown in Quebec.

“I want to say thanks to the New York crowd, they helped me today and never gave up,” she said on court. “Thanks to them I was able to win.

“I just wanted to be in the final and I fought for every point. I don’t know how I got that last point in but I’m glad it was.”

Sabalenka roared out of the blocks, playing some near-perfect power tennis as she belted 9 winners and no unforced errors to lead 3-0, but then a couple of double-faults helped Fernandez break back and the Canadian saved a set point as she clung on for a tiebreak.

With errors creeping in from both, Sabalenka produced a bad overhead miss and another double-fault to allow Fernandez the chance to snatch the opening set.

At the start of the second, Sabalenka broke to love but Fernandez, eating up her opponent’s increasingly frequent second serve, levelled for 2-2.

The Belarusian’s frustration became evident when she took her anger out on her racket during the changeover, earning herself a warning from the umpire, but it seemed to settle her and the Wimbledon semi-finalist secured another break for 5-4 before serving out to love to take the match into a deciding set.

The pair exchanged breaks midway through the third and could not be separated until Sabalenka wilted on serve, and Fernandez sank to her knees after completing another memorable victory on her remarkable journey to a first Grand Slam final.

Aryna Sabalenka gave vent to her frustration by breaking her racket on the change-over on Thursday night

© Timothy A Clary/AFP via Getty Images

The diminutive Canadian’s hero is Justine Henin.

“Justine is not the biggest player nor the strongest player, but she always found a solution playing against bigger players,” she explained. “My dad would tell me all the time there’s no limit to my potential…Nothing’s impossible. There’s no limit to what you can do.”

Henin’s famous slogan was, ‘Impossible is nothing’, but against Sabalenka, Fernandez seemed to have few solutions at first.

At the get-go, the powerful Belarusian bludgeoned her smaller, lower-ranked opponent in what looked to be a mis-match, but Fernandez is a great fighter and, once she uncorked 3 aces and took advantage of a loose Sabalenka service game, she was well on her way to an upset as the No 2 seed slowly but surely unraveled.

The 19-year-old left-hander stayed composed in only her 15th Grand Slam match, pumped up the fans and used her guile to get past Sabalenka’s imposing power.

When Sabalenka’s forehand flew long, the Canadian crumpled to the ground in relief and joy as the Belarusian left the arena in tears.

Later, Sabalenka confided to the media that the moment had got to her.

“I destroy myself…This is what we call pressure…Well, this is life,” Sabalenka said. “If you’re not using your opportunity, someone else will use it…I will keep working and fighting, and I believe that one day it will come.

“Seems like in these two weeks, everything [was] working well for [Leylah]. Like there was nothing to lose….Everything is going her way….There is no pressure on her at all. Crowds are here for her.”

Certainly the New York fans were rooting for Fernandez as heartily as they did later for Raducanu.

“One word that really stuck to me is ‘magical’ … I’m just having fun,” Fernandez said. “I’m trying to produce something for the crowd to enjoy.

“I’m glad…the fans are loving it – and I’m loving it, too.”

Going into the Open, many thought there would be an Ash Barty party and no one expected that these two so appealing, incredibly improbable long-shots, with Fernandez at 200-1 and Raducanu at 100-1 at the start of the fortnight, would be in the running on the final weekend in a first ever final between two unseeded players.



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