Teenager Leylah Fernandez has continued her giant killing run to advance to a shock US Open final by edging world No.2 Aryna Sabalenka 7-6 (3), 4-6, 6-4 in an incredible semi-final.
Fernandez will become the second 19-year-old Canadian to play in the women’s final at Flushing Meadows in three years. Bianca Andreescu won the title in 2019.
The Canadian has been an overwhelming fan favourite at the US Open this week, and she rode the wave of support from the crowd to get her back into the match. Sabalenka started brilliantly and appeared as if she would overpower Fernandez, winning 12 of the first 14 points and racing to a 3-0 lead in just eight minutes.
The momentum changed after Fernandez got on a roll off the back of the support inside Arthur Ashe stadium, winning the final four points of the tiebreaker to take it 7-3.
At one stage in the opening set, the crowd celebrated and applauded in response to a double fault from Sabalenka.
The Belarusian yearned for the crowd’s support and things got worse for her early in the second set when she received a code violation after a Fernandez miscue won her an important point to hold serve.
With Fernandez taking a 3-2 lead, Sabalenka took out her frustration on a tennis racquet, repeatedly smashing it on the ground.
“The crowd has gotten to her, we’ve seen this happen before with Leylah,” said Chris Evert on ESPN’s coverage. “Aryna is beating herself.”
However, things started to change when the Belrusian started motioning to the crowd to support her after she aced to hold for 3-3.
It was then a battle to win the crowd’s love when Fernandez urged the crowd to cheer for her after a slick drop shot the next point.
Unfortunately for the teenager, the momentum swung Sabalenka’s way, even though the crowd was cheering harder for the Canadian.
The No.2 seed took the second set 6-4 to square the match after breaking Fernandez’s serve for a 5-4 lead and then served out the set.
In the end, it was Sabalenka, a Wimbledon semifinalist in July, who let things get away from her. In the last game, she double-faulted twice in a row to set up match point, then sent a forehand long.
Fernandez collapsed to the court and put her hands to her face.
It was the 73rd-ranked player’s fourth consecutive three-set victory over a seeded opponent. First came No.3 Naomi Osaka, the 2018 and 2020 US Open champion. Then came No.16 Angelique Kerber, the 2016 champ. That was followed by No.5 Elina Svitolina and Sabalenka.
“That’s years and years and years of hard work and tears and blood,” said Fernandez, who could give Canada its second U.S. Open women’s title in quick succession, following Bianca Andreescu’s triumph in 2019. “Everything. On court, off court. Sacrifices.”
Fernandez was born in Montreal to an Ecuadorian father — who is also her coach, although he is not with her in New York, instead offering coaching tips in daily phone conversations — and a Filipino Canadian mother. The family now lives in Florida.
In Sunday morning’s (AEST) final, the left-handed Fernandez will face either another unseeded teen, 18-year-old qualifier Emma Raducanu of Britain, or 17th-seeded Maria Sakkari of Greece. Neither of them has participated in a Grand Slam title match, either.
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