Photo: camerawork usa
She’s there. Leylah Fernandez will cap an astonishing run in New York this Saturday by competing in the final of the US Open. She becomes the second Canadian in the Open Era to do so, following in the footsteps of compatriot Bianca Andreescu who won the event in 2019.
Playing on the mythic Arthur Ashe Stadium against yet another heavily favoured opponent, Fernandez came into this match riding a wave of momentum after underdog victories over No. 3 seed and two-time US Open champion Naomi Osaka, three-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber and World No. 5 Elina Svitolina in a matter of the last six days.
Sabalenka, meanwhile, made her way to the semis with victories over the likes of No. 26 seed Danielle Collins, No. 15 seed Elise Mertens and No. 8 seed and this year’s French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova. The Belarusian was also competing for a spot in her first Grand Slam final having reached the last four at Wimbledon in July.
The World No. 2 came out hitting hard in the first set in this New York blockbuster, overwhelming Fernandez with her powerful serve and forehand and jumping out to a 4-1 lead. The Canadian battled back admirably, taking advantage of some unforced errors by the Belarusian to bring things back on serve with a break. It remained level until the tiebreak, where there were six minibreaks in total – four for the Canadian, who came away as the set winner 7-6(3).
The second set started like a carbon copy of the first: huge-hitting forehands and serves from Sabalenka and an early break in her favour. The Belarusian couldn’t shake Fernandez, however, and again the Canadian stormed back with a break of her own. Sabalenka wasn’t deterred this time and forced Fernandez to hit long at 30:40 to craft another break, which she would consolidate to love to seal the set 6-4.
Onto the third, and this time it was Fernandez who struck the early blow with 19-year-old breaking to make it 4-2. Sabalenka brought it back on serve immediately, showing great resilience, but Fernandez was exuding incredible poise beyond her years, while the nerves were seemingly getting to the Belarusian. That manifested itself into a series of double faults at 5-4* to give Fernandez three match point opportunities.
The Canadian wasn’t about to pass them up, taking the first of three to seal a fairy-tale championship match appearance, where she will face either Great Britain’s Emma Raducanu or Greece’s Maria Sakkari.