Photo: camerawork usa
It was a fairy tale run for Leylah Fernandez in New York with three wins over Top 5 opponents and a plethora of breath-taking performances that will live long in the memory. The 19-year-old from Laval, Quebec has captured the hearts and minds of the tennis world, but the realization of her dream of becoming a Grand Slam champion will have to wait just a little bit longer following a 6-4, 6-3 loss to Emma Raducanu in the US Open final on Saturday.
On her way to the championship match, Fernandez beat Ana Konjuh of Croatia 7-6(3), 6-2 in the first round, followed by Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi 7-5, 7-5 in the second. She faced a monumental task in round three where she came up against reigning champion and No. 3 seed Naomi Osaka of Japan, but the Canadian swept her aside 5-7, 7-6(2), 6-4. Then, she beat three-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber of Germany 4-6, 7-6(5), 6-2 in the round of 16 and No. 5 seed Elina Svitolina 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(5) in the quarters followed by a 7-6(3), 4-6, 6-4 victory over No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka in the semis.
Raducanu, meanwhile, was a qualifier and had to come through matches against Bibane Schoofs of the Netherlands, Mariam Bolkvadze of Georgia and Mayar Sherif of Egypt to make it into the main draw. The Brit overcame Switzerland’s Stefanie Vogele in the first round, China’s Zhang Shuai in the second and Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain in the third. In the round of 16, Raducanu beat Shelby Rogers of the United States before overcoming Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic in the quarter-finals and Maria Sakkari of Greece in the semis. Coming into the final, she was yet to drop a set at the tournament.
This was the first meeting between Fernandez and Raducanu on the professional circuit but the second of their careers following a 6-2, 6-4 second-round victory for the Brit at the Junior Championships of Wimbledon in 2018. The championship match in New York saw both players get off to a nervy start as they each struggled on their own serve, resulting in two early breaks. They settled down and it remained on serve until, at 5-4*, Raducanu broke Fernandez with a fierce forehand to take the set 6-4.
The momentum was all with Raducanu heading into the second set, but it started in the same fashion as the first – a break in each direction. Fernandez thought the impetus had swung in her favour when she recovered from 0:40 down on her own serve before immediately breaking her opponent but Raducanu had other ideas, fighting back to put the set back on serve with a break of her own. Just a couple of games later, it was the Brit who took a vital lead when she crafted another break, which she then consolidated to go 5-2 up. Fernandez held in the next game – including saving two championship points – but could not stop Raducanu from serving out the match, despite showing great resilience in the final game.
“I honestly have no idea what to say,” Fernandez commented in her post-match interview. “Today is going to be hard to recuperate from. Congratulations to Emma and to your team. I’m very proud of myself, with the way I’ve played these past two weeks and especially having the New York crowd back has been amazing. It’s definitely special for me to be here in the finals and having you cheering me on. Thank you so much New York, thank you everyone.”