Washington: Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez are similar in so many ways: They possess enviable quickness and anticipation. They take balls low to the ground and redirect them with ease.
They don’t care how much better-known or more successful their opponents are. They love the big moment.
There is more. They are both teenagers. They are both unseeded at the 2021 US Open. They are both getting loud backing from the crowds.
And now remarkably, they are Grand Slam finalists. Raducanu, an 18-year-old from Great Britain who is ranked 150th, and Leylah, a 19-year-old from Canada who is ranked 73rd, took wildly different paths to the championship match at Flushing Meadows on Thursday.
They will be back at the Arthur Ashe Stadium on Saturday for the first major final between two teens since the 1999 US Open. Raducanu became the first qualifier to reach a Grand Slam final in the professional era by overwhelming 17th seed Maria Sakkari of Greece 6-1, 6-4.
Appearing in just her second major tournament, Raducanu has won all 18 sets she has played – six in qualifying rounds and 12 in the main draw.
I have been taking care of each day, said Raducanu. I am in the final and I can’t believe it. Raducanu led 5-0 against Sakkari in the first set and there was no stopping her thereafter. The latter earned seven break-point opportunities in that span but couldn’t convert any while the former took two of the three chances she got.
Raducanu made just 17 unforced errors to Sakkari’s 33 and is now the youngest Slam finalist since Maria Sharapova won Wimbledon at the age of 17 in 2004. Leylah isn’t much older to Raducanu and edged out second seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus 7-6(3), 4-6, 6-4 in a semi-final which was filled with momentum swings. At the outset, Sabalenka looked in control, clinching 12 of the first 14 points for a 3-0 lead. Just eight minutes had elapsed and most spectators were yet to reach their seats. Not until later did the 20,000-plus in the stands rally behind the Canadian with chants of Let’s go, Leylah! Let’s go! accompanied by rhythmic clapping.
At the end of the first and third sets, Sabalenka let things get away from her. In the last game, she double-faulted twice in a row to set up a match point for Leylah and then sailed a forehand long. This is what we call pressure, said Sabalenka after her match.