Photo : camerawork usa/Tennis Canada
A new generation of teenagers is stealing the show at this season’s US Open.
During the first week of the tournament, Leylah Fernandez (who turned 19 on September 6), Carlos Alcaraz (18) and Emma Raducanu (18) all made headlines.
We always get behind the prodigies who find a way to stand up to the big names in their sport. It’s hard to say which young sensation has gained the most fans while competing in New York, but let’s be totally biased and say it’s Leylah.
Our local hero’s biggest feat came on September 3 when she surprised World No.3 and four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka of Japan in the third round, on the colossal stage at Arthur Ashe Stadium with over 20,000 people in the stands (5-7, 7-6 (2), 6-4).
Candid and self-confident, Fernandez was a breath of fresh air in her post-match interview. When asked how she felt at 6-5 in the second set with no breaks and her opponent serving for the second, the No.73 said: “I guess I wanted to stay on court a little bit longer. And I wanted to put on a show for everybody here. One hour wasn’t enough for me to be on court.”
And when interviewer and former champion Mary-Jo Fernandez (no relation) asked Leylah about the moment she knew she could win, the Canadian replied: “From the very beginning, right before the match, I knew I was able to win!”
Arrogance? Recklessness? You’d only think that if you didn’t know Leylah Fernandez.
Her aplomb is as considerable as her determination. If you follow this blog, you’ll remember what Séverine Tamborero, director of high-performance clubs and U10 development at Tennis Canada, had to say about Fernandez, who seemed unstoppable even a decade ago.
“When Leylah was 10, I remember asking her what she wanted to do later on. She said in no uncertain terms that she wanted to be a professional tennis player. When I asked her what her plan was if that didn’t happen, she said: ‘It will definitely happen because it’s what I want!’ and that was it. She’s one of the most singularly determined players I’ve ever met, and that’s the key to her success.”Séverine Tamborero
In the following days, the Quebecer did the same trick to other big shots, German Angelique Kerber (WTA 17th) and Ukrainian Elina Svitolina (WTA 5th), and zoomed up 37 spots in the rankings to secure her place in the Top 40, next week. Spectacular!
Still smiling, still straightforward, always a gladiator.
A couple of hours before Leylah Fernandez’s tour de force, 18-year-old Carlos Alcaraz of Spain managed one himself.
The World No.55 showed No.3 Stefanos Tsitsipas the door at the outcome of a four-hour thriller that ended in a fifth set tiebreak 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (2), 0-6, 7-6 (5). In his post-match presser, the Greek titan admitted the Spaniard had fought an incredible battle: “His ball speed was incredible. I’ve never seen someone hit the ball so hard.”
With another five-set win in the next round over Peter Gojowczyk of Germany, Alcaraz extended his streak and became the youngest player to reach the quarters of Grand Slam event since Michael Chang at Roland-Garros in 1990.
On sept. 13, he will be welcomed in ATP Top 40 at the 38th place.
Is Alcaraz the next Nadal? Hard to say, but he’s definitely off to a great start.
As for Emma Raducanu, the new darling of British tennis after her run at Wimbledon, she continued to blaze her way up the rankings at Flushing Meadows, which is only her second major.
With her semifinal appearance, the 18-year-old is now 21-6, including qualifying matches, since June 7.
Why June 7? Because that was her first day on the job in the WTA. She started out as No.366, and, by the time the US Open rolled around, she was No.150.
In the Big Apple, she disposed of No.128 Stefanie Vogele of Switzerland, No.49 Shuai Zhang of China, No.41 Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain, No.43 Shelby Rogers of the US, who’d just eliminated No.1 Ashleigh Barty, and No.15 and recent Tokyo’s Olympics champion, Belinda Bencic, of Switzerland.
Raducanu’s brilliant run brings her at the doorstep of the Top 50. She’s risen 99 spots since the start of the Open and 315 spots in the past three months!
And did I mention she played in the qualifying event? Allow me to add that she lost NONE of the 16 sets she closed out with an impressive average score of 6-3.
She turns 19 in November.
And how ‘bout this for a comparison?
It’s a trajectory that looks a lot like the one embarked upon by a 19-year-old Bianca Andreescu way back in 2019.
FAA vs. RBA: milestone match?
Many of you were glued to your screens on Sunday night for the primetime clash between Félix Auger-Aliassime and Frances Tiafoe on the sport’s biggest stage, just a few minutes after another Canadian managed to secure her own huge win.
But despite all the credit Félix deserves, I doubt the match will be a turning point for him.
In the four-hour skirmish, Auger-Aliassime justified all the expectations placed on him by playing every trump card in his game.
The Spanish veteran is always a tough and tireless opponent and has a huge defensive game that can break even the most patient rival.
Félix pushed back and pushed hard.
The loooooong rallies, including a 34-shot marathon won by the Quebecer, set Louis Armstrong Stadium ablaze.
And those aces! All 27 of them (yes, 27!) helped Félix take things to the next level, even when Bautista-Agut showed exceptional resistance.
After two and a half sets, FAA had managed to keep the unforced errors to a minimum. Even in the face of an almost predictable slump, he regained control when it mattered most.
After losing the third and fourth sets and racking up unforced error after unforced error (74 in total), the 21-year-old found his bearings in the fifth to gain what may be one of the most salient wins of his young career.
As far as winners, he dominated his rival 77-17, and that says a lot about a) his inclination to play offensive tennis versus the more cautious game he falls back on all too often and b) the fact that Bautista Agut wears down his adversaries by consistently sending back whatever they blast at him.
Félix has expelled some big players of late. Still, with all due respect, some of his victims—like Shapovalov in Madrid, Schwartzman in Rome, Federer in Halle and Matteo Berettini in Cincinnati—played pretty terrible matches.
In his next contest against Frances Tiafoe of the US, he was even better. Operating in particularly hostile conditions that included a bad start and about a million breaks that evaporated, he still converted a first-set deficit into four-set victory with over 20,000 ticket holders loudly cheering on their own.
On to the next round!
Out of pocket
Félix vs. Frances was intense. Adding to the drama was an unusual incident that actually happened twice and could have affected the outcome of the match.
In two rallies, a ball fell out of Auger-Aliassime’s left pocket, forcing the chair umpire to decide whether it was a case of hindrance, which would mean replaying the point.
“It happened to me once in Cincinnati for the first time in my life, now twice here. At one point I was actually holding the ball, hitting forehands and holding the ball in my pocket because it was actually about to go out. It was crazy, I had to really think about it before every time I served.”Félix Auger-Aliassime
When it happened a second time, Félix had to change up his service routine and ask for a second ball, like Bianca Andreescu and Serena Williams. Of course, any type of change can impact a player’s concentration. “Somehow I was able to stay focused. I’m glad I did, because it would have been tricky,” said Auger-Aliassime.
Félix Auger-Aliassime’s interview with ESPN concluded on an especially positive note when Black commentator and former player James Blake mentioned that the Canadian had fought in a spectacular match between two Black men in the sport’s largest arena, which is named in honour of a Black pioneer, the late Arthur Ashe.
“It’s great, you know. We’ve come a long way, Frances and I,” said Auger-Aliassime. “Our families have tough backgrounds, both of us. So, for us to be able to be here today to bring new faces to tennis, to inspire hopefully kids in New York but also all over the world and people watching, I hope we’ll see many new faces in the future in tennis. I’m happy that Frances and I can be part of that group inspiring others.”
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