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A teenage showdown for the women's title at the 2021 US Open

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Roar Guru
10th September, 2021
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And then there were two.

After an upset-ravaged women’s draw, which saw the likes of Naomi Osaka, Ashleigh Barty, Angelique Kerber, Sloane Stephens and Bianca Andreescu all fail to reach the quarter-finals, we are down to our two finalists, from which we will have a brand new major champion.

Going into the final major of the year, no one would have forecast that two unseeded teenagers whom nobody had ever heard of would be left to fight it out for the title, but that’s exactly what has unfolded following a stunning fortnight of tennis in New York.

In one corner we have British teen sensation Emma Raducanu, who is participating in just her second ever major after reaching the fourth round at Wimbledon as a wildcard where she was forced to retire due to a breathing issue.

She had captured the hearts of the home crowd with her run to the second week at the All England Club, giving local fans the hope that there is a bright, young tennis player that will one day dominate on the WTA Tour.

Because her ranking was too low to gain direct entry into the US Open main draw, she had to go through three rounds of qualifying, but was able to win her way through after winning each match in straight sets.

Her first-round match saw her drawn against lucky loser Stefanie Voegele, who took the place of 13th seed and Australian Open finalist Jennifer Brady who withdrew after the main draw was released due to injury.

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Throughout the fortnight, she went on a stunningly dominant run, winning six matches, each without dropping a set nor conceding more than four games, to advance to her first major final in just her second attempt.

Along the way, she defeated Shelby Rogers, who’d upset Ashleigh Barty in her previous match, in the fourth round, as well as Olympic gold medallist Belinda Bencic in the quarter-finals, and finally, Greek 17th seed Maria Sakkari in the semi-finals.

In her semi-final match, Raducanu turned on her A-game, racing to a 5-0 lead in the first set, and after Sakkari held in the sixth game to prevent a first set bagel the 18-year-old served it out to win it 6-1, and have one foot in the US Open final.

Emma Raducanu

(Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

She then broke early in the second set, and would not relinquish the advantage as she won in straight sets, 6-1, 6-4, becoming the first British woman since Virginia Wade in 1977 to reach a major final, and first in the Big Apple since Wade in 1968, in the process.

She is also the first qualifier in Open era history, male or female, to reach a major final, having won nine straight matches to get this far, including winning three consecutive matches in the qualifying rounds.

The 18-year-old now has the chance not only to become her country’s first female major champion since Wade 44 years ago, but also the quickest grand slam champion in recent history, this being just her second such tournament.

In the intervention, the best-performed British player has been Johanna Konta, who has reached three major semi-finals but could never break through to reach a final.

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For Raducanu, winning a major title in her second appearance would beat the effort set by Bianca Andreescu, who won the US Open title just two years ago aged 19 in just her fourth appearance in a major main draw.

Attempting to emulate that 2019 feat is another Canadian, Leylah Fernandez, who has lit up New York over the past fortnight with some stunning tennis generated on the back a giant-killing run and a strong mental fortitude, which has seen her claim the scalps of two past champions.

The recently-turned 19-year-old held off a furious challenge from second seed Aryna Sabalenka to win in three sets and book a place in her first major final, in just her seventh appearance.

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For the fourth consecutive match, the Canadian displayed her fighting qualities against a higher-seeded opponent, first erasing a 1-4 deficit and then fighting off a set point in the first set to force a tiebreak, which she won 7-3.

She then fell behind 0-2 at the start of the second, but quickly hit back for 4-all before being broken again in the ninth game, leaving Sabalenka to serve it out, level the match at a set apiece and force a deciding set.

In a dramatic final set, Fernandez drew first blood breaking for a 4-2 lead, only to be pegged back to 4-all as Sabalenka attempted to fight her way into a first major final after having never previously reached a quarter-final at this level prior to Wimbledon this year.

Leylah Fernandez hits a forehand at the US Open

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

After holding for 5-4, the 19-year-old brought up three match points on the Belarussian’s serve, ultimately winning in three sets after Sabalenka sent a shot long to set herself up for a shot at the ultimate glory.

In earlier rounds, the Canadian had dug her way out of trouble against Naomi Osaka and Angelique Kerber, coming from a set and break down in both matches before digging deep in a third set tiebreak to edge out fifth seed Elina Svitolina in the quarter-finals.

She had earlier beaten two former US Open quarter-finalists, Ana Konjuh (who got that far at the expense of Agnieszka Radwanska in 2016) and Kaia Kanepi, in the first two rounds.

The 19-year-old has now become the third woman from her country, after Bianca Andreescu here at Flushing Meadows in 2019 and Eugenie Bouchard at Wimbledon in 2014, to advance to a major final this century.

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The stage is now set for what promises to be a massive final between two teenagers with the potential to become huge tennis stars over the next decade or so, with our youngest female major champion since Maria Sharapova at Wimbledon in 2004 set to be crowned.

While Raducanu represents Great Britain, the fact she was born in Canada means she will effectively be facing off against a compatriot in Fernandez, who will have the full support of a crowd desperate for some North American success after no Americans reached the quarter-finals in either the men’s or women’s draws for the first time in the tournament’s history.

Now that you’ve got all the info above, it’s time to crunch the all-important numbers and stats below.

Emma Raducanu versus Leylah Fernandez
Saturday, September 11, 4:00pm (Sunday, September 12, 6:00am AEST)
Arthur Ashe Stadium

Head-to-head
First meeting

Emma Raducanu’s road to the final
Qualifying round 1: defeated Bibiane Schoofs (NED) 6-1, 6-2
Qualifying round 2: defeated Mariam Bolkvadze (GEO) 6-3, 7-5
Qualifying round 3: defeated [4] Mayar Sherif (EGY) 6-1, 6-4
Round 1: defeated Stefanie Voegele (SUI) 6-2, 6-3
Round 2: defeated Zhang Shuai (CHN) 6-2, 6-4
Round 3: defeated Sara Sorribes Tormo (ESP) 6-0, 6-1
Round 4: defeated Shelby Rogers (USA) 6-2, 6-1
Quarter-finals: defeated [11] Belinda Bencic (SUI) 6-3, 6-4
Semi-finals: defeated [17] Maria Sakkari (GRE) 6-1, 6-4

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Leylah Fernandez’s road to the final
Round 1: defeated Ana Konjuh (CRO) 7-6 (7-3), 6-2
Round 2: defeated Kaia Kanepi (EST) 7-5, 7-5
Round 3: defeated [3] Naomi Osaka (JPN) 5-7, 7-6 (7-2), 6-4
Round 4: defeated [16] Angelique Kerber (GER) 4-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-2
Quarter-finals: defeated [5] Elina Svitolina (UKR) 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (7-5)
Semi-finals: defeated [2] Aryna Sabalenka (BLR) 7-6 (7-3), 4-6, 6-4

The stats that matter
For both women this is their first major final, and for Leylah Fernandez this is her second career final after winning her first career title at Monterrey earlier this year.

Emma Raducanu is the first British woman to reach a major final since Virginia Wade at Wimbledon in 1977, and the first at the US Open since Wade in 1968. She is also the first qualifier, male or female, in Open era history to reach a major final.

This will be the second major final this year to produce a new champion, after Barbora Krejcikova won the French Open in June, and the third consecutive major final to produce a new tournament champion (after Ashleigh Barty won her first Wimbledon title in July).

This will also be the sixth US Open final in the last seven years to produce a new champion at the tournament, with Naomi Osaka the only multiple winner since 2014 (2018, 2020).

This is the fifth consecutive major final with different opponents, dating back to last year’s rescheduled French Open.

Emma Raducanu of Great Britain

(Photo by TPN/Getty Images)

This is the first major final to pit two unseeded opponents, male or female, against each other.

This is the first major final between teenagers since the 1999 US Open, in which a 17-year-old Serena Williams (who is still playing, and turns 40 later this month) defeated 18-year-old Martina Hingis for the first of her 23 (and counting) major women’s singles titles.

Both players are the first born in the year 2002 to reach a major final. This is also the first major final to feature two players born this century. Whoever wins will eclipse Iga Swiatek (born on May 31, 2001) as the latest-born major champion.

Whoever wins will become the youngest female major champion since Maria Sharapova (then aged 17) at Wimbledon in 2004, and at the US Open since Serena Williams won her aforementioned first major title while aged 17 (she turned 18 in that same month).

Whoever wins will become the fourth teenager, after Svetlana Kuznetsova in 2004, Sharapova in 2006 and Bianca Andreescu in 2019 to win the US Open title. All three were 19 at the time of their triumphs. Further, Iga Swiatek was 19 when she won the French Open last year.

Prediction
Leylah Fernandez in three sets.

Both men’s semi-finals will be contested on Saturday morning (AEST), with Felix Auger-Aliassime and Daniil Medvedev second on Arthur Ashe Stadium after the men’s doubles final, followed in the evening by Novak Djokovic up against Alexander Zverev.

Medvedev and Djokovic will start favourites to set up their second major showdown this year, after they both faced off for the title at Melbourne Park in February with the Serb winning on that occasion.

Djokovic is only two wins away from a historic calendar slam, which would be the first achieved by a man since Rod Laver in 1969, but on the flip side, Zverev will have every reason to believe he can reach a second consecutive US Open final after knocking him off at the Tokyo Olympics last month.

And after having his wheelchair quad quarter-final against Bryan Barten cancelled, Dylan Alcott will also begin his bid to complete the golden calendar slam. This match will commence first on Court 12 at 12:00pm (2:00am AEST).

Matches to watch on Day 12

Arthur Ashe Stadium
Not before 3:00pm (5:00am AEST)
[12] Felix Auger-Aliassime (CAN) versus [2] Daniil Medvedev (RUS)

Not before 7:00pm (9:00am AEST)
[1] Novak Djokovic (SRB) versus [4] Alexander Zverev (GER)

Court 12
Play starts at 12:00pm (2:00am AEST)
[1] Dylan Alcott (AUS) versus Bryan Barten (USA)

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