Leylah Fernandez’s teenage dream run continues at the US Open…
The 19-year-old half-Ecuadorian Canadian tennis player made it through a semifinal filled with momentum swings to edge No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka 7-6 (3), 4-6, 6-4.
At the outset Thursday, Sabalenka looked in control, claiming 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 the fist-aloft Fernandez with chants of “Let’s go, Leylah! Let’s go!” accompanied by rhythmic clapping.
“I’m glad that whatever I’m doing on court, the fans are loving it — and I’m loving it, too,” Fernandez said. “We’ll say it’s magical.”
At the end of the first set and again the third, it was Sabalenka who let things get away from her. In the last game, she double-faulted twice in a row to set up match point, then sailed a forehand long.
“This,” Sabalenka said, “is what we call pressure.”
No matter what, seemingly, Fernandez did not feel it. Didn’t waver.
This was the left-handed Fernandez’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.
“There’s no limit to what I can do. I’m just glad that right now everything’s going well,” said Fernandez, who could give Canada its second US Open women’s title in three years, following Bianca Andreescu‘s triumph in 2019.
She’ll next face Emma Raducanu in the final.
Fernandez was born in Montreal to a Filipino Canadian mother and Ecuadorian father; the family moved to Florida after Leylah had success as a junior at age 12. Her dad is also her coach, although he is not with her in New York, instead offering coaching tips in daily phone conversations.
Perhaps he told his daughter to let Sabalenka make all the mistakes in a tiebreaker, because that’s what happened at the conclusion of the first set. Sabalenka went up 2-0 and then lost her way. Every point won by Fernandez came courtesy of a miss by Sabalenka.
“I wouldn’t say that she did something,” Sabalenka said. “I would say that I [destroyed] myself.”
In the second set, Sabalenka regained her form and Fernandez took a step back. But by the third, it was Fernandez’s time to shine.
“Now she’s like [a] top-10 player,” Sabalenka said. “We’ll see how good she will be in the future.”