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US Open Women’s Final Preview: Raducanu or Fernandez?

In a highly-anticipated US Open final between two teenagers in New York on Saturday night, comparisons between Emma Raducanu and Leylah Annie Fernandez are inevitable, both of whom have stunned the opposition and captured hearts around the globe.

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

They will contest the first all-teenage Grand Slam final since the 1999 US Open, and only the 8th time this has occurred at a Grand Slam since the Open era began in 1968.

That their lives will now be so very different is clear, as they leave the relative obscurity of the lower ranks to step into the glaring spotlight of public attention, regardless of who lifts the silverware on Saturday night.

Raducanu has yet to drop a set in New York in the 9 matches she has played at Flushing Meadows over the last 3 weeks, while Fernandez, who was a direct entry, has weathered 4 gruelling 3-setters in the 6 matches she has won.

There are 2 months separating them, with Raducanu aged 18 and Fernandez turning 19 just this Monday.

Both are writing new chapters of tennis history but Raducanu’s rise up the rankings has been the more meteoric as she has become the first qualifier to reach the final at any of the Grand Slam singles draws in the Open Era, and that includes the men’s.


Leylah Annie Fernandez has quite the personality on the court, engaging with the crowd

© Elsa/Getty Images

There are many more similarities between the two, who were both born in Canada to immigrant families.

Raducanu’s father, Ian, is Romanian while her mother, Renee, is Chinese, and she was born in Toronto before the family moved to Britain when Emma was 2-years old where they settled in Bromley, Kent.

The teenager cites China’s Li Na and Simona Halep of Romania as her biggest on-court inspirations, saying: “I think for me, having a Chinese mum, she definitely instilled from a young age hard work [and] discipline.”

Fernandez is from Montreal but has Filipino heritage from her mother, Irene, while her father, Jorge, is a former footballer, who hails from both Ecuador and Peru, and moved to Canada as a child.

“We’re an immigrant family and we had nothing,” Jorge told Canadian network TSN recently. “Canada opened up its doors and, if they wouldn’t have done what they did, I wouldn’t have had the opportunities that I have, and I wouldn’t have been able to give them to my daughter.”

Jorge is Fernandez’s main coach, while Ian is heavily involved in Raducanu’s career, although more behind the scenes, trusting his daughter’s tennis to a series of different mentors.

Raducanu remembers first meeting Fernandez at an under-12s tournament, and their only previous clash on court came in the girls’ singles at Wimbledon in 2018, with Raducanu winning 6-2 6-4.

Fernandez had the more prestigious junior career, winning the French Open girls’ title and reaching the Australian Open final in 2019.

She was set on a tennis career from a young age, and her mother moved to the USA alone to support her daughter’s budding career after an early rejection by the Canadian system, before the whole family subsequently relocated to Florida.


Emma Raducanu has impressed with her on court interviews

© Sarah Stier/Getty Images

The more experienced, Fernandez has played on the main tour for 2 years, winning her first WTA title in Mexico earlier this year.

Raducanu has taken her tennis career a lot more slowly, saying after beating Maria Sakkari in the semi-finals that it was not until a couple of years ago that she committed to a full-time future in the game, and she took a break because of the pandemic and to focus on her A-Levels.

Her talent was obvious from an early age and there has been a lot of excitement about her within British tennis for a number of years because, when she did play matches, she invariably did well, and she has progressed at warp speed since making her Wimbledon debut as a wild-card just two months ago.

In 73 days she has rocketed up the rankings and is improving on every outing, losing just 43 games in her New York run and adding Olympic gold medallist Belinda Bencic and 17th seed Maria Sakkari to her growing list of scalps.

Fernandez has undoubtedly had the tougher draw, making her first big splash by upsetting defending champion Naomi Osaka in round 3, which she followed up by knocking out another former winner in Angelique Kerber, 5th seed Elina Svitolina and 2nd seed Aryna Sabalenka, all in tough 3-set contests.

She has spent more time on court than Raducanu, despite playing 3 fewer matches, but her belief has been evident throughout.

The similarities between right-hander Raducanu and left-hander Fernandez extend to their game styles, with both slight figures, who pack a real punch.

Both women’s games are based on superb athleticism, which enables them to defend brilliantly against even the biggest hitters, and they are also both very adept at turning defence into attack, taking the ball extremely early, and redirecting it at will.

Both average 96 mph for their first serve, and have done a good job of protecting their secondary deliveries, while they are also comfortable at the net.

Fernandez is the more exuberant on court, drawing the crowd into matches with what has already become a signature exhortation-cum-fist pump.

Raducanu is more contained, but has a ready endearing grin, while both have stood out with their mature approach, intelligent point construction and mental solidity.


Leylah Annie Fernandez' left-handed serve is a potent weapon

© Elsa/Getty Images

Already, both have become the latest tennis millionaires, with runs to the US Open final guaranteeing a stunning $1.25million windfall, but the cheque will double to a cool $2.5million for the champion.

Fernandez and Raducanu are currently ranked 73rd and 150th in the world respectively, but both will see that skyrocket after the conclusion of this tournament.

Raducanu’s rankings rise is breathtaking, from No 338 in June to 32 in the world regardless of what happens in her match against Fernandez.

Should she win the title, she will move up to No 23 in the world, alongside the riches that come with being one of the new faces of the tennis world certain to change her life forever.

Raducanu is aiming to become only the second player to win the US Open on her debut, following Canada’s Bianca Andreescu in 2019, and she is the first British woman to reach the final of this tournament since Virginia Wade in 1968.

Raducanu said of the final: “Is there any expectation? I’m a qualifier, so technically on paper there’s no pressure on me.”

Discussing her run, Fernandez commented: “That’s years and years and years of hard work, and tears and blood, everything, on-court, off-court sacrifices.

“I just wanted to be in the final. I really wanted it. I fought for every point.”

Both have set the sport alight with their fearless play and joie-de-vivre, but when the tournament ends they will face an array of expectations and obligations that were not part of their lives two short weeks ago.

“Everyone is going to want them, every tournament is going to want them to play,” Ashley Keber, the WTA Tour’s Vice President of Member Relations, who leads a team that develops programs and resources for players and their teams, told Reuters.

Raducanu and Fernandez are no longer anonymous faces to the New Yorkers chanting their names and celebrities offering praise on social media or the global television audience.

While the WTA has programs in place to help players cope with the demands of the sport, Keber acknowledges that Raducanu and Fernandez will require a little more diligence.

“It will require some extra attention,” Keber told Reuters. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and on the biggest stage of sport so, for example, both of these women have participated in our mentoring sessions.

“This will be a vulnerable time for them win-or-lose and it is not just the next couple of days. It will be many months, and I think this is where their teams can reach out to us.”

While the teenagers have produced upset after upset in the Big Apple, outclassing a succession of experienced opponents, their time in New York has been unencumbered by the burden of expectations and the pressure that comes with them, until now.

The song ‘New York, New York’ says: ‘If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere’, and Raducanu and Fernandez will soon find out which is the most fearless.



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