US Open: teenage dream final honours Original 9

Leylah Fernandez and Emma Raducanu have captivated the tennis and sporting world to book the first all-teenage US Open women’s final since 1999.

Leylah Fernandez / US Open 2021©Pete Staples / USTA
 - Alex Sharp

Between the women’s singles semi-finals on Thursday night, the Arthur Ashe Stadium sparkled as six of the Original 9 received their ‘Tennis Hall of Fame’ rings.

The ceremony was a great salute to those who paved the way for the women’s pro tour as we know it today.

The whole evening was a fitting tribute to the Original 9, two teenage stars glistening on the major stage, proving everything Billie Jean King and co fought for was justified.

Leylah Fernandez and Emma Raducanu, precocious talents who have earned the first all-teen US Open women’s final since 1999. Get used to watching these two on centre stage.

Fernandez mental fortitude delivers the goods

“I think one word that really stuck to me is 'magical' because not only is my run really good but also the way I'm playing right now,” effused Fernandez, playing just her seventh Grand Slam event.

It couldn’t be summarised better. 1-4 down following a scorching start from world No.2 Aryna Sabalenka, the 19-year-old stole the opening set tie-break and wrestled back the momentum in the decider 7-6(3), 4-6, 6-4. 

“I'm just having fun, I'm glad that whatever I'm doing on court, the fans are loving it and I'm loving it, too. We'll say it's magical.”

Retrieval skills, canny shot choice, reflexes, power play, world No.73 Fernandez has portrayed a complete repertoire this fortnight, particularly in the crunch moments.

Take her tie-break record, when the pressure truly tells. The Canadian has won all five against the calibre of opponent including former US Open champions Naomi Osaka and Angelique Kerber.

It’s all about perspective. Fernandez and Raducanu are simply fearless.

“My dad would tell me all the time there's no limit to my potential to what I can do. Every day we just got to keep working hard, we got to keep going for it. Nothing's impossible. There's no limit to what I can do,” stated Fernandez, set to rise to at least world No.27.

“It’s helped me open my eyes that I can go three sets against these players, I can play against these top players, and I can win against these top players. My mental toughness, that's been a huge plus for me.”

Remarkably such a raw talent might have slipped by, but Fernandez and her close-knit family are adept at dealing with adversity.

“A lot of people doubted me, my family and my dreams. They kept saying no, that I'm not going to be a professional tennis player, that I should stop and just pursue going to school,” revealed the 19-year-old.

“I remember one teacher, she told me to stop playing tennis, you will never make it, and just focus on school.

“You know what, I'm just glad that she told me that because every day I have that phrase in my head saying that I'm going to keep going, I'm going to push through, and I'm going to prove to her everything that I've dreamed of I'm going to achieve them. But that's basically just the tip of the iceberg.”

Would be great to hear from that teacher now…

Records tumble around Raducanu

Even further out of the blue has been the rise of Raducanu.

The Brit only made her WTA debut in June and was handed a late Wimbledon wildcard. The 18-year-old stole the headlines in the UK with a fourth round showing on home turf, now her scintillating success is global.

The current world No.150, set to launch up into the Top 40 and become British No.1 on Monday, is the first qualifier, male or female, to reach a Grand Slam singles final.

Yes, you read that correctly. A giant piece of history for the teenager.

Seven break points erased in the early stages, 3-0 ahead, Raducanu was exemplifying the resilience displayed for the past three weeks, never looking back in an emphatic 6-1, 6-4 triumph over No.17 seed Maria Sakkari.

Execution, composure, conviction, she had it all to become the first British woman to reach a Grand Slam singles final since Virginia Wade at Wimbledon in 1977!

“A surprise, honestly I just can't believe it. A shock. Crazy. All of the above,” stated Raducanu, trying to articulate her emotions in just her second major.

“It means a lot to be here in this situation. I always had dreams of playing in Grand Slams, but I just didn't know when they would come. To come this early, at this point in my career, I've only really been on tour for a month, two months since Wimbledon. It's pretty crazy to me.”

Nine matches from the start of qualifying, winning all 18 sets, youthful exuberance has boosted the Brit. So has channelling her tennis idols Li Na and Simona Halep – the agility, piercing backhand, the ability to turn defence into attack with the flick of a wrist, the never giving up mentality. You can just tell Raducanu has watched reels of these two major winners.

“I think honestly being young, there is an element of you do play completely free,” mused the teenager.

“Honestly right now I'm just thinking of the game plan, how to execute. That's what's landed me in this situation. It hasn't been focusing on who's expected to win this match or that one. I think it's just taking care of the day. That's what I'm doing quite well at the moment.”

Final silverware showdown

The duo go way back, crossing paths at the Orange Bowl event in Florida about six years ago, before Raducanu won their only previous encounter in straight sets at the 2018 Junior Wimbledon.

It’s fair to say a lot has changed since then.

Both have absorbed the pressure, both a finding inspired tennis to defy the odds. Now two incredible protégés meet.

Martina Navratilova on TV commentary in the UK hailed the “changing of the guard in a big way… It’s been the same people at the top for about 20 years. The crowd is really excited about it because you can already see they’re a credit to the sport.”

Dazzling displays have enthralled legends like Navratilova and the Original 9. Over to Fernandez and Raducanu to deliver one more spectacle.