The U.S. Open is set to host its first all-teen women’s final since 1999, and the match will be a historic one for tennis history as well as new, young star power in the sport.
The when you walked into the room just then is a historic all-teen women’s final that will cap an Open defined by new, young star power.
NEW YORK (WABC) — Leylah Fernandez turned and scowled at her player’s box, where family and even Brooklyn Nets head coach and Canadian basketball icon Steve Nash sat on the edge of their seats as the world’s No. 2 player imploded with her second straight double fault at the worst possible moment.
Nothing has fazed Fernandez, who repeatedly pumped her fist and nodded her head at her teammates. Tennis’ newest teen star fell to the ground one point later, her hands covering her face seemingly in astonishment.
The 19-year-old seemed to be standing on shaky legs for the first time throughout her thrilling race.
“It’s amazing,” the Canadian lady remarked Thursday night after defeating Aryna Sabalenka, her third top-five rated opponent, 7-6 (3), 4-6, 6-4, to reach the US Open final.
Emma Raducanu, 18, threw her racket and placed her hands on the top of her head two hours later, making the evening a historic one. She beat No. 18 Maria Sakkari in straight sets to join Fernandez in the first all-unseeded major final in the Open’s history.
“Honestly, I can’t believe it,” Raducanu remarked, recalling his previous encounter with Fernandez as a junior. “It was a rude awakening. Crazy. All of the aforementioned.”
When the US Open started, all of the buzz was about who wasn’t playing and how the event lacked excitement. But Fernandez and Raducanu have transformed the Open into their own adolescent bash, emerging as the new faces of a tennis-wide young movement. With Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Serena and Venus Williams all on the mend, a new generation of players has arisen, with players like Fernandez, Raducanu, Carlos Alcaraz, Felix Auger-Aliassime, and Jenson Brooksby making their mark.
While the outcome of the Open will be determined by whether Novak Djokovic completes a calendar Grand Slam, it may also be regarded as the start of a new era for young players like Fernandez and Raducanu. Serena Williams began her domination in the US Open women’s final when she was 17 years old and beat 18-year-old Martina Hingis in 1999.
Tennis was spoilt in the 1980s and 1990s by youngsters like Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Michael Chang, Steffi Graf, Monica Seles, Martina Hingis, and the Williams sisters, who all went on to have Hall of Fame careers. But today’s legends’ brilliance and domination have kept the next generation, and the one after that, in check for so long that it’s easy to forget what it was like to have a swarm of adolescents making a racket at the same time.
Only three adolescents have reached the women’s quarterfinals at the US Open between 2010 and 2020 before Fernandez and Raducanu. Seven of the eight quarterfinalists in the men’s competition were under the age of 25 this year (two of them 21 or younger). Wimbledon in 2007 was the last time this occurred at a major.
It seems like a long time since we’ve seen a bunch of teenagers put up a show in the second week of a big competition. While both sides have 25-and-under competitors, a new wave has developed beneath them. And each candidate wants to show that this isn’t simply a fad, that this isn’t just another case of a Broadway understudy shining for a week in New York.
“We’re all just extremely motivated to make an impact in the tennis world,” Fernandez added. “I knew a few of them from junior tours.” We’ve always joked that we’re going to be on the WTA Tour together and that we’ll be on the big stage together.
“We want to make an impact. In tennis, we want to create an impression. This event only goes to show how effectively we adjust to new situations.”
Leylah Fernandez has reached the US Open final three times, which is tied for the most by any woman since the Open Era started in 1968. Virginia Wade (1968) and Serena Williams (1999) both accomplished the same thing and went on to win the championship. Getty Images/TPN
The night before Fernandez stunned reigning champion Naomi Osaka in the third round of the Open, the Canadian was jotting down as many mental notes as she could over an amazing meal with a Hall of Famer in New York.
Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario met down with Fernandez, her mother, Irene Exevea, and fitness instructor Duglas Cordero to provide advice. Fernandez paid attention to everything, and it shows in her performance. In many respects, Sanchez-Vicario is Fernandez’s ideal dinner companion. With a dogged persistence that made her one of the hardest players in the game’s history, the former world No. 1 won the French Open three times and the US Open once.
Fernandez, like Sanchez-Vicario, is 5-foot-6 but plays much larger than her size. She absorbed and countered Osaka’s strength, outlasted Angelique Kerber, and showed composure beyond her years when she defeated fifth-seeded Elina Svitolina in a nail-biting third-set breaker and outlasted Sabalenka in three sets. She has beaten three top-five seeds at the US Open, tying Virginia Wade (1968) and Serena Williams (1999), both of whom went on to win the tournament.
“Sanchez-Vicario was renowned for being tenacious, never giving up, and having a lot of faith,” ESPN commentator Pam Shriver, who reached the 1978 US Open women’s final as a 16-year-old, stated. “She went about with a confident demeanor even when she wasn’t performing well. Leylah would benefit greatly from having someone like that as a mentor.”
Fernandez entered the Open rated 73rd in the world, but he had the mental tenacity of a player with a higher rating. The challenges and uncertainties that Fernandez and her family have experienced over the years have toughened her up, she added. When Fernandez was 10 to 13, Exevea had to relocate from Canada to California and live away from his family to help pay for their tennis costs. There was also Leylah’s sixth-grade teacher, who advised her, “Stop playing tennis, you’ll never make it, and just concentrate on school.”
Fernandez isn’t the only adolescent who has caught the eye of one of the game’s all-time greats. Raducanu, on the other hand, was making her own waves as a qualifier who had yet to lose a set. She was stunned to discover Wade, the last British woman to win a Grand Slam at Wimbledon in 1977, was in attendance during her 6-2, 6-1 fourth-round triumph against Shelby Rogers. The 18-year-old approached Wade in the Presidential Suite and thanked the 76-year-old great for keeping an eye on him.
After the encounter, Wade told ESPN, “She is going to win Grand Slams, for sure.”
Raducanu’s ascension has been incredible. She was rated 338 at the start of the year and had never played a tour-level match until three months ago. Raducanu, on the other hand, has created history by being the first qualifier to reach a US Open final and the youngest British woman in the Open era to reach the Round of 16 at Wimbledon before withdrawing due to respiratory problems against Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia.
“If you had told me the young one trying to win the event here, I would have picked Coco Gauff,” ESPN tennis commentator Brad Gilbert said of the American, who lost in the second round to Sloane Stephens but is still alive in the women’s doubles. “I watched Raducanu at Wimbledon, but I didn’t believe she was this good.” It’s exciting to see these young athletes develop because you get a glimpse of something unexpected that unfolds.
“You have to pinch yourself every now and then to remind yourself that these things still happen.”
Since the Open Era started in 1968, Emma Raducanu is the only men’s or women’s qualifier to reach a major final. EPA-EFE/Shutterstock/JOHN G MABANGLO
James Blake understands what many players are thinking when they scan the brackets for their names when the US Open men’s tournament draw is announced.
“A lot of guys in this age would look at a draw and say, ‘OK, there’s Novak, there’s Roger, there’s Rafa,’” said the ESPN tennis commentator and former No. 4 in the world. “They’ll see whether they’re in a softer position where they can say, “I’m going to miss them until the quarterfinals or semifinals, and that is kind of my objective.” Because many of them viewed [the Big Three] as a barrier.”
Since 2003, the Big Three have won a total of 60 Grand Slams, surpassing a plethora of would-be future stars. With Federer, Nadal, and reigning champion Dominic Thiem all missing, the men’s locker room had a unique vibe this year.
“I saw people frothing at the mouth, which is really hilarious to see,” said American Frances Tiafoe, who advanced to the fourth round before losing to Auger-Aliassime in four sets. “I’m laughing out loud in the changing room. Guys are ravenous. ‘There’s an f—-ing opening, like I have to f—-ing push,’ the guys say.”
Brooksby put up a fight against Djokovic, winning the opening set 6-1 in front of a raucous Ashe Stadium crowd before succumbing to the top seed in four sets. Brooksby, though, became the youngest American to reach the Round of 16 since Andy Roddick, at 20 years old, in 2002.
“He’s twenty years old. He has a lot of time on his hands “Djokovic was impressed by the American, and stated so. “I must congratulate him and state that I was pleased not just by his performance but also by his demeanor. I believe we will see a lot more of him in the future.”
Alcaraz, the 18-year-old Spanish prodigy who has attracted parallels to Nadal, is another player who has emerged. Many think he is just touching the surface here. In arguably the match of the tournament, Alcaraz defeated third-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (2), 0-6, 7-6 (5). During the fifth set, Alcaraz displayed composure and explosive groundstrokes that screamed star. And, similar to Fernandez’s match against Osaka, the Ashe crowd threw its support behind the underdog.
“The audience got behind some of these guys who I didn’t see coming and it elevated their games,” Gilbert said of the Open’s opening week. “If the fans hadn’t suddenly elevated Alcaraz at the conclusion of the fourth set, he would have been toast against Tsitsipas.”
Auger-Aliassime, who turned 21 in August, ended Alcaraz’s run in the youngest quarterfinal or later showdown at a major tournament since the 2006 French Open. By the way, in their first encounter, a 20-year-old called Nadal beat a 19-year-old named Djokovic.
Daniil Medvedev, the solid if unspectacular second seed who has been closing in on a major title, was watching the match knowing he would be up against the first man born in the 2000s to reach a Slam semifinal. Medvedev, 25, couldn’t help but feel he was getting on in years.
“I’m no longer a ‘Next Gen,’” Medvedev joked.
In his first Grand Slam semifinal, Felix Auger-Aliassime will play Daniil Medvedev. Getty Images/Sarah Stier
When Fernandez was a kid, she dreamed of having a racket that was larger than her. She envisioned herself playing Justine Henin, Serena Williams, Venus Williams, and, in recent years, Naomi Osaka at every Grand Slam.
“When I was little, I always saw myself playing basketball in front of a large crowd and having a good time,” she added.
And who came out on top in those made-up matches?
“I did,” Fernandez replied, a grin on his face.
The goal is that these younger players will continue to push each other like the greats of previous generations, and that the pressure and expectations that come with this performance will not overwhelm them or their careers. There have been far too many adolescent prodigies who have gone away.
“With these adolescents, we have to be patient,” Shriver added. “While we can see how they are playing today, in women’s tennis, you never know what is going on. Will they continue in this manner? Is this a one-time occurrence, or will it be a one-time occurrence for another year or two before they get back on track? There have been far too many instances of young players making their big breakthrough at a Slam and then failing to maintain consistency.”
But something seems different about this Open and these youthful possibilities. Fernandez and Raducanu, according to Sakkari, are “fearless.” Fernandez hasn’t forgotten about the instructor who warned her she’d never make it as a professional.
“I believe I can now claim that I’ve done a very decent job of realizing my ambitions,” Fernandez remarked, smiling.
The us open men’s final will be a historic all-teen women’s final. It will cap an Open defined by new, young star power.
- emma raducanu
- us open
- duncan and eaves