One Day Only!
Young Blood Will Be (Metaphorically) Spilled!
Not For the Weak of Heart!
(smelling salts available, bring your own fan)
So it began with a wry smile and a shrug (or an eye roll) and "Watch it be the two teens!" which turned into "Hey, you know, it could be the two teens." That turned into "I think it might be the two teens." And now, ladies and gentlemen, we have--the two teens.
Their backstories are different, but equally appealing. Leylah Fernandez took out two former U.S. Open champions (Osaka and Kerber), and three of the top five seeds (Osaka, Sabalenka, Svitolina), on her way to the final. Emma Raducanu played nine matches--she had to go through qualifying--to get to the final, and she has yet to drop a set. And though one would think that the young Brit (she's eighteen, and Fernandez just turned nineteen four days ago) would have spent much more time on court than her Canadian opponent, there wasn't much difference because Fernandez had to play several three-set matches.
(Teenage) dream final. pic.twitter.com/iKZkHuLAne— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 10, 2021
There's an argument to be made that Fernandez, because she had a more difficult draw, is more match-tough than Raducanu--she had to handle the likes of Naomi Osaka, Angie Kerber, Elina Svitolina, and Aryna Sabalenka. If you turn that idea on its head, there's the argument that Fernandez could suffer both mental and physical fatigue because of her difficult draw.
There's also the fact that--while she certainly didn't have to get past the queue of tough customers that her opponent had to handle--Raducanu's draw wasn't a walk in the park. Though several days have past, I still can't get over the fact the Raducanu allowed Sara Sorribes Tormo one game in their match. The Spaniard isn't an elite player, but she's one of the toughest players on the tour, and she'll happily drag you to three grueling sets, many of which she wins--yet the British upstart made very short work of her.
Raducanu also had to face 2021 Olympic gold medal winner and 11th seed Belinda Bencic, whom some had talked about as a possible winner of this year's Open. And then, in the semifinals, she had to face off against Maria Sakkari. No problem.
One thing in particular, however, is missing from Raducanu's draw: She didn't have to play against one left-hander, but she will have to do so in the final. One assumes that, as I write this, she's hitting with at least one left-handed person.
Raducanu is the only qualifier, man or woman, to ever reach the final of a major. She has smiled through the routine swatting away of all of her opponents, including the formidable Sakkari, whose newly improved (and deadly) serve failed her when she needed it most.
For her part, Fernandez was given a series of problems, all of which she solved. The toughest of those problems, in my opinion, was fellow lefty Angie Kerber, whom I (though I may have stood alone) thought had a good shot at winning the tournament. By the time Fernandez got to Sabalenka--even though she had to play three sets--her court life became a bit easier as she got into the 2nd seed's head and watched her slowly implode.
It's highly doubtful that the young Canadian star will be permitted to get anywhere near Raducanu's head, and it's equally doubtful that Raducanu will be able to swat Fernandez away. What we have is the perfect combination of two brilliant young players who now have to deal with each other. Will one of them be frozen by the occasion? Don't count on it. These are tough young women who have undoubtedly learned a lot about themselves in the past few weeks, and I suspect that they liked what they learned.
And as if this match weren't historic enough, it's also the first time that two unseeded women have competed in a major final.
This is the final of the year--brace yourselves.
Paths to the final:
EMMA RADUCANU (Q)
round 1–def. Stefanie Voegle
round 2–def. Zhang Shuai
round 3–def. Sara Sorribes Tormo
round of 16–def. Shelby Rogers
quarterfinals—def. Belinda Bencic (11)
semifinals—def. Maria Sakkari (17)
round 1–def. Ana Konjuh
round 2–def. Kaia Kanepi
round 3–def. Naomi Osaka (3)
round of 16–def. Angie Kerber (16)
quarterfinals—def. Elina Svitolina (5)
semifinals—def. Aryna Sabalenka (2)