Teenagers Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez have served noticed they are the faces of a new women’s tennis generation, yet only one gets a fairytale ending in Saturday’s US Open final.
British 18-year-old Raducanu, the first qualifier to reach a Grand Slam final, and 19-year-old Fernandez, a 73rd-ranked Canadian left-hander, meet at Arthur Ashe Stadium with history at stake and drama assured.
“It will be a tough match for sure. She’s playing great tennis,” Raducanu said.
“But I think I’m also playing very good tennis. I’m excited to go out there.”
It’s the first Grand Slam final between teenagers since 17-year-old Serena Williams beat Martina Hingis, 18, at the 1999 US Open, and just the eighth all-teenager Slam final in the Open era (since 1968).
One will walk off with her first Grand Slam trophy on the same court where Williams, a 23-time Slam winner about to turn 40, took her first 22 years ago.
“There’s no limit to my potential, to what I can do,” Fernandez said. “Every day we just got to keep working hard, we got to keep going for it. Nothing’s impossible. I’m just glad right now everything’s going well.”
Raducanu is trying to become the first British woman to win a Grand Slam title since Virginia Wade at Wimbledon in 1977 and the first British woman to win the US Open since Wade in 1968.
Raducanu, ranked 150th, is the youngest Slam finalist since 17-year-old Maria Sharapova won at Wimbledon in 2004 and only the second woman ranked outside the top 100 in a US Open final after Kim Clijsters won the 2009 crown.
“I wasn’t really sure how my game was going to be,” Raducanu said. “My tennis level has surprised me in the way I’ve managed to step up against some of the best players in the world.
“I knew I had some sort of level inside of me that was similar to these girls, but I didn’t know if I was able to maintain it over a set or two. To be able to play the best players in the world and beat them, I honestly can’t believe it.”
Fernandez has ousted defending champion Naomi Osaka, second-seeded Aryna Sabalenka and fifth seed Elina Svitolina. Not since Williams at Wimbledon in 2012 has a player beaten three top-five rivals in a Slam.
“I believed in my game, but it also has helped me open my eyes that I can win against these top players,” said Fernandez. “I’m just glad to have this experience and see where my tennis level is at.”
Veterans such as Greek 17th seed Maria Sakkari appreciate the teen titans.
“They’re both young. They play fearless. They have nothing to lose playing against us,” Sakkari said. “They take their chances. They’re out there fighting for that title. Very well done to both.”
Raducanu, who could become the first US Open champion not to drop a set since Williams in 2014, is humble about her achievement.
“I’m sure when I’m older or have more experience, the same will happen to me,” Raducanu said. “The tables will turn. Some younger players will come through.”
‘We’ll say it’s magical’
Fernandez and Raducanu have created a true-life fantasy to rival any Disney cinematic heroine.
“I’ve been doing some things incredible,” Fernandez said. “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.
“I’m just having fun. I’m trying to produce something for the crowd to enjoy. 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.”
Raducanu and Fernandez first played each other in under-12 events.
“Since then we’ve both come very far in our games and as people,” Raducanu said.
“I’m sure it’s going to be extremely different to when we last encountered each other. But we’re both playing good tennis so it’ll be a good match.”
Second-ranked Aryna Sabalenka warned there’s still a tough road ahead.
“Young generation are working hard, doing their best, using everything they have,” Sabalenka said.
“The question is when you will start to understand what’s going on and where you are, how good can you deal with all these expectations and this level, all this pressure.”