Wednesday, September 22, 2021

US Open: Emma Radukanu beats Leyla Fernandez in historic final

NEW YORK – Unseeded British teen Emma Radukanu emerged champion from a qualifier at the US Open in her second appearance at a Grand Slam tournament.

Raducanu defeated Canadian teenager Leyla Fernandez 6-4, 6-3 in the final at Flushing Meadows on Saturday to become the first player to advance to the preliminary qualifying round for a major title in the professional era.

18-year-old Radukanu, who is ranked 150, won all 20 sets played in New York – six in qualifying, 14 in the main draw – and became the first woman to win a singles championship without dropping a set. Serena Williams in 2014.

It was the first major final between two teenagers, when 17-year-old Williams defeated 18-year-old Martina Hingis at the 1999 US Open, and the first final between two unseeded women.

Radukanu took a 4–2 lead in the second set, held for 5–2 and was one point from winning the title twice in the next game. But he let both those opportunities pass by putting the groundstroke in the net.

Then at 5-3, as Radukanu was serving for the match, he slipped on the court, chasing a ball towards his backhand, bleeding from his left knee. A trainer came out to put a white stripe on the cut and during a delay of more than four minutes, Fernandez – the 19-year-old Canadian left-hander in 73rd – spoke to chair umpire Marijana Veljovic.

When they resumed, Radukanu saved a pair of break points, then converted it on his third chance to close, finishing the 108 mph ace. She dropped her racket, lay on her back and covered her face with both hands.

Raducanu is the first British woman to win a Grand Slam trophy since Virginia Wade at Wimbledon in 1977.

She is also the youngest player to claim the women’s major title since Maria Sharapova turned 17 at Wimbledon in 2004.

Fernandez was asked during a brief pre-match interview in the hallway, which leads from the locker room to the entrance to the court, in what was expected to be Saturday’s biggest challenge.

“Honestly,” he replied, “I don’t know.”

Neutral. In one of the most unexpected final matchups in Grand Slam history, neither he nor Radukanu really knew what to expect.

The two turned out to be loud cheers – Fernandez was a little louder – and wearing his tool bag with both straps on his shoulder, the kind his age in high school (Radukanu recently completed his exams) or college. Can do with backpack.

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The two have played like legends at Flushing Meadows these weeks, with the chivalry and shot-making of the Giants. The final was entertaining and, for the most part, even, full of long points and long games. Both have unmistakable talent and affinity for the big stage.

Took 28 minutes for only four games, with one break and one hold making it 2-all. Both missed opportunities several times. At others, both came up with goods that produced groundbreaking excellence.

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The first four games of the second set unfolded the same way – 2-all after a break and a hold each.

One of the key differences came at the start of the points, as this is where Fernandez faltered the most.

He finished only 58% of his first serve with five double-faults, helping Radukanu collect 18 break points.

Radukanu converted four of them.

The crowd was so quiet just before and during that one could hear Radukanu’s right hand slapping on the leg or swinging his racket while waiting for the whisper of an exhalation.

And people – all thrilled to be back on the site after last year’s pandemic ban of spectators – got louder after them, celebrating especially with left-handed Fernandez’s physical trainer, who is his front-row would leap from the corner seat and shake his fist when things went his player’s way.

Fernandez’s group — which includes mom but not dad, who stayed home in Florida, where they had moved several years earlier after early success in juniors — were in a guest box assigned to a higher-ranked player. This is a position Fernández was not accustomed to in the tournament as she defeated four straight-seeded women, each in three sets: defending champion Naomi Osaka and 2016 champion Angelique Kerber, number 2 Aryna Sabalenka and number 5 Elina Svitolina.

So Fernandez spent more than 12 1/2 hours on the court in his six matches; Radukanu’s overall score was over 7 1/2 hours in the main draw. It seemed to be a factor.

US Open: Emma Radukanu beats Leyla Fernandez in historic final
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