When the tournament started, no one thought a then-18-year-old one-time winner of a non-major would be in the final of the US Open.
Leylah Fernandez did just that, and in convincing fashion. She took down world no. 2 in Belarus’ Aryna Sabalenka, 7-6(3), 4-6, 6-4, in the women’s singles semifinal of the 2021 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, New York, Friday (Manila time).
The feat was all the more impressive as she took down favorites Naomi Osaka, Angelie Kerber, and Elina Svitolina in succession. Then she outlasted the powerful Belorussian in three hard-fought sets.
Fernandez took advantage of the Sabalenka’s fatigue, as she’d muscled her way into every shot throughout the match. Finally, in that most important service game, the young gun outlasted the experience from the latter. She comfortably took the decisive break of serve – the final game of the match.
“There were so many things that are happening right now. I met Billie Jean King, I met Juan Martin Del Potro, I got Steve Nash in my box. I got my whole family,” Fernandez said after marking her Grand Slam final debut.
And when asked who among Emma Raducanu, a fellow teener, and Maria Sakkari, would she like to play, the Canadian simply said, “I don’t care. I just want to be in a final right now.”
It was not a dream start for Fernandez, though. She felt the power of the Sabalenka serve on the onset and dug a very huge 1-4 hole. However, the Canadian teen used the pace of the opponent’s shots to make her own winners. She was then able to level the set at 4-apiece, and from there it was a battle.
Fernandez zoomed into the early lead in the tiebreak, but Sabalenka leaned once more on her power to take the slim 3-2 advantage. Nonetheless, the 19-year-old unseeded player navigated through each shot. She forced the Belorussian to make unfortunate timely errors – including a third double fault – to eventually turn the set into her favor.
That confidence carried the Fil-Ecuadorian – but a Canadian citizen – through on service up to a deadlock at 4-apiece in the following set. The Belarusian had other plans, however. She took advantage of the shaky final service game from Fernandez and wrapped the setup to force the decider.
The final between Fernandez and the winner of the Raducanu-Sakkari takes place on Saturday at 4:00 PM in New York (Sunday, 4:00 AM in Manila). The winner will earn her first-ever Grand Slam title and all its perks.