Emma Raducanu (left) and Leylah Fernandez are 37 years old together
|Venue: Flushing Meadows, New York Date: September 11 Time: 21:00 CEST|
|Cover: Radio commentary on the BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra / BBC Sport website and app, with live text commentary on the website and app|
Emma Raducanu will seek to become the first British woman to win a Grand Slam singles title in 44 years when she faces her teenage Leylah Fernandez in an unlikely US Open final between two players who enlightened New York.
A final between the world rankings 150 and 73 was never predicted and shouldn’t be that exciting, but this US Open – and these two players – defied expectations at every turn.
Raducanu’s story is a dream – the 18-year-old was too short to reach the peloton, had to pass three qualifying rounds and is the first qualifier to reach a grand final.
And all without dropping a set.
19-year-old Fernandez has pushed aside a number of leading players – he has eliminated defending champion Naomi Osaka, fifth seed Elina Svitolina, world number two Aryna Sabalenka and three-time Grand Slam winner Angelique Kerber.
Their different paths and opposing styles – but similarly fearless – created the first grand slam final between teenagers since the 1999 US Open, when Serena Williams defeated Martina Hingis.
A young major waves to one of them, but regardless of whose name is engraved on the trophy, both have shown that there is a bright future for tennis, at a time when fans were wondering who could fill the void when the sport’s biggest names eventually retire.
“The whole country will cheer Raducanu”
Raducanu’s exploits have been praised by kings, politicians and rock stars, as well as experts and fans.
When she finally ends the country’s waiting for a first female Grand Slam individual winner since Virginia Wade’s 1977 triumph at Wimbledon, someone may have to invent new superlatives as they have all been used to describe them.
What is impressive is that she is not only 18 years old, but also clinically much more experienced players such as Olympic champion Belinda Bencic and Maria Sakkari, who was placed in 17th place, beaten with a fearless game that shows great diversity and the intelligence to change tactics has the job.
And then there is this smile.
At times she appeared so relaxed that she managed to shine between the points, and the megawatt grin that lit up the Arthur Ashe Stadium after converting match points has fans on site as well as at home convinced.
She has already achieved so much in just three months, reaching the round of 16 on her Grand Slam debut at Wimbledon, climbing from 338 in the rankings to just outside the top 30 when they are next published on Monday, and she will the British number will also be one.
“If you see this kind of talent, it is not denied,” said 18-time Grand Slam individual champion Martina Navratilova.
“It’s almost like the finished product when it’s just getting started.”
British fans will be relieved that the final takes place at a much tastier time at 9:00 p.m. CET, as many set their alarms to the middle of the night when she played her semi-finals.
“The whole country will cheer you on in the final,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted.
Emma Raducanu’s path to the final
Similar backgrounds, different styles, same goals
Of course, Fernandez, who is only two months older than Raducanu and turned 19 this week, is living her own dream at Flushing Meadows.
She too was showered with congratulations, and among the messages of the Prime Minister and top athletes was the advice of Canadian ice hockey captain Marie-Philip Poulin: “Make sure you have maple syrup before the final!”
Fernandez’s games were stickier than Raducanu’s, with four of their six games going in three sets and featuring five tie-breaks. The Briton, on the other hand, has not lost a set, nor has there even been a tie-break.
But Fernandez’s opponents were bigger names, and their behavior in court is also different from Raducanus’.
The left-handed Canadian loves to pump her fist and get the crowd going to get behind them, while Raducanu cuts a serene figure.
The couple, both born in Canada to immigrant children, grew up together in the juniors and faced each other in the second round of Junior Wimbledon in 2018.
Raducanu won that game 6-2 6-4. But so much has changed for both players since then that it cannot possibly be a measure of what Saturday will bring.
This duel attracts so much attention that Novak Djokovic’s quest for a record-breaking 21. Men’s major and a calendar Grand Slam was somewhat overshadowed.
“I think we are all hungry to make a difference in the tennis world,” said Fernandez. “We always talked and joked about being part of the WTA Tour and being on the big stage together.
“We want to make a difference. We want to make a difference in tennis.”
Regardless of the result in the final, they have certainly already done so.
Leylah Fernandez’s path to the final