On Thursday at the US Open, British 18-year-old qualifier Emma Raducanu and Canadian 19-year-old Leylah Fernandez made incredible runs to their historic maiden Grand Slam finals.
Raducanu defeated Greek 17th seed Maria Sakkari 6-1, 6-4 to become the first qualifier to ever reach a Grand Slam final and the youngest Slam finalist in 17 years.
Raducanu stated, “I’m in the final and I can’t believe it.”
Fernandez, a 73rd-ranked left-hander, defeated second-seeded Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus 7-6 (7/3), 4-6, 6-4 to win her third Open match against a top-five opponent, a feat not accomplished since Serena Williams at Wimbledon in 2012.
“I can now say that I’ve done a pretty decent job of realizing my ambitions,” Fernandez remarked.
The teen prodigies will battle Saturday at Arthur Ashe Stadium in a real-life fairy-tale epic, with one of them claiming her maiden Grand Slam title.
“Is there something to look forward to?” Raducanu explained. “I’m a qualifier, so there’s no pressure on me on paper,” she says.
It’s the first Slam final involving teens since Williams, then 17, beat Martina Hingis, then 18, in the 1999 US Open, and only the eighth all-teen Slam final in Open history (since 1968).
“All I want to do is play in a championship,” Fernandez said. “I’m going to bask in the glory of my win and worry about it later.”
Raducanu is the youngest Slam finalist since Maria Sharapova won Wimbledon at the age of 17 in 2004.
After unranked Kim Clijsters came out of retirement and won the 2009 US Open, she became only the second woman ranked outside the top 100 to reach a US Open final.
“I wasn’t thinking about anyone else except myself today,” Raducanu explained.
Raducanu is attempting to become the first British woman to win a Grand Slam championship since Virginia Wade won Wimbledon in 1977 and the US Open in 1968.
Wade and Tim Henman, a British legend, were also present.
“Tim is a huge inspiration,” Raducanu stated. “He’s been guiding me and urging me to focus on one point at a time. You can’t get ahead of yourself and must stay in the now.”
Fernandez, who turned 19 on Monday, had already defeated defending champion Naomi Osaka and fifth-seeded Elina Svitolina before falling to Sabalenka, 23.
“I had possibilities, but I didn’t take advantage of them when they were most important,” Sabalenka remarked. “I didn’t have a good game. She was well-deserving of the victory.”
Raducanu might become the first US Open champion since Serena Williams in 2014 to not drop a set.
Raducanu survived three break points in her first serve game before breaking for a 2-0 lead. Sakkari double faulted to give the teenager a 4-0 lead, and she won the first set in 36 minutes with to Sakkari’s 17 unforced errors.
Raducanu advanced after 84 minutes on an overhead smash after an inaccurate Sakkari forehand in the third game of the second set gave her the only break she needed.
‘YEARS OF EXPERIENCE’
In the tie-breaker, Fernandez, who had never advanced past the third round in her previous six Slam appearances, demonstrated the mental toughness that her father-coach Jorge had emphasized.
With a wide-open court, Sabalenka missed a forehand to give Fernandez a 3-2 lead. After that, the teen never trailed, winning the final four points to take the first set in 53 minutes.
Fernandez described her mental toughness as “years and years of struggle, tears, blood, and sacrifice.”
When the Ashe stadium music director took the stage, the crowd erupted in applause when she performed the Eric Clapton song “Layla.”
“I have no idea how I won,” Fernandez admitted. “I’d attribute it to the New York crowd. They came to my aid. They were rooting for me. They didn’t give up.”
In the ninth game, Fernandez blasted a forehand long, surrendering a break, and Sabalenka held at love to clinch the second set.
With the match on the line, Sabalenka crumbled in the third, issuing back-to-back double faults to 0-40 and sending a forehand long — her 52nd unforced error — to succumb after two hours and 21 minutes.
“I’m not sure how that last point came in, but I’m glad it did, and I’m glad I’m in the finals,” Fernandez said.