Drawing a comparison to the retired tennis great Maria Sharapova due to her style of play, Leylah Fernandez just made a step closer to match the Russian’s success.
The Filipino-Canadian teenage standout flexed some nerves of steel to subdue world no. 5 Elina Svitolina, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(5), to book her place in the semifinals of the 2021 US Open women’s singles tournament just a day after her 19th birthday, at the USTA Billie Jean King Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, New York, Wednesday (Philippine time).
Fernandez needed some spectacular shots to ultimately stop the Ukrainian in the tiebreak at 7-5. The 19-year-old broke the deadlock and took a match point with a huge passing shot akin to a Sharapova forehand. Then she followed it up with a good service winner to end the two-hour-and-24-minute match.
“Just to trust myself,” the 2021 Monterrey Open champion told herself after every point of that tiebreak. “Svitolina, she’s a great player. She fought for everything, she runs for everything. She deserves to be in the quarterfinals. And I’m honored to be in a fight with her
“So, I told myself to trust my shots. Trust that everything’s got to go well, even if I’m gonna lose, just go for it. And I’m glad I did.”
Fernandez looked like a woman on a mission after capturing the first set with a huge service break and with huge disparity on the winners at that, 13-4. That then prompted the more experienced Svitolina to run for every ball and ultimately make some timely unforced errors.
That same experience is what kept Svitolina in the match, and she finally changed tactics throughout that second set. The Ukrainian used her powerful serving to shorten the rallies and eventually leveled the match at a set apiece.
With all else equal in the third set, Fernandez threatened to close the match early after a huge win in that seventh game for a 5-2 lead. Only Svitolina fought back and leveled the set towards that eventual down-the-wire finish.
The win saw the world number 73 as the youngest player since Sharapova to make the semifinals of the year’s final Grand Slam tournament.
Fernandez will take on the winner of the battle between second-seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus and Barbora Krejcikova of Czechia for a place in the final.