Battle of the teens: Fernandez, Raducanu set for historic U.S. Open final

It will be the Big Apple battle of teenagers in Saturday’s U.S. Open final, as Canadian Leylah Fernandez continued her giant-killing spree and Britain’s Emma Raducanu became the first qualifier to reach the title clash at a major. 

The final under the lights at the colossal Arthur Ashe Stadium between Fernandez and Raducanu will be the first major final in the Open Era across both the men’s and women’s game to feature two unseeded players.

It will also mark the first Grand Slam final to be contested by two teenagers since the 1999 U.S. Open where Serena Williams defeated Martina Hingis.

Both Raducanu, 18, and Fernandez, who turned 19 this week, were yet to be born then — the pair were born in 2002, with Raducanu’s birthday falling in November. 

Serena Williams, right, of the United States and Martina Hingis of Switzerland smile and pose with their trophies after their match in the U.S. Open on Sept. 11, 1999. Williams defeated Hingis 6-3, 7-6 (7-4). (Jamie Squire/Allsport)

Such is the fascination with the pair that they threaten to steal the spotlight from history-hunting Novak Djokovic, who is just two wins away from becoming only the third man to claim a calendar-year Grand Slam.

No. 12 seed, Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime of Montreal plays his semifinal at 3 p.m. ET against Daniil Medvedev. 

“I think we’re all just super hungry to make a difference in the tennis world,” said Fernandez, who celebrated her 19th birthday on Monday. “We’ve always talked about and joked around that we’re going to be in the WTA Tour we’re going to be on the big stage together.

“We want to make a difference. We want to make an impact in tennis.”

Fernandez was the first to book her spot with yet another upset on Thursday as she took down second seed Aryna Sabalenka 7-6(3) 4-6 6-4 in the first semifinal.

When asked if she wanted to face another teen or a tennis veteran, the Canadian star was ready for either. 

“I don’t care, I just want to play a final right now,” she said with a smile. 

WATCH | Fernandez storms into U.S. Open final:

Leylah Fernandez heads to U.S. Open final

After entering the U.S. Open unseeded, 19-year-old Leylah Fernandez stunned No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka to claim victory and head to her first Grand Slam final. 2:08

Raducanu wasted little time joining her, wrapping up her contest against Greek Maria Sakkari 6-1 6-4 in 84 minutes to become the first British woman to reach a major final since Virginia Wade won Wimbledon in 1977.

“We first encountered each other because I was born in Toronto and she was Canadian, so we kind of, like, made a little relationship back then,” said Raducanu, whose parents moved to England when she was two-years-old.

“But, yeah, then I played her at junior Wimbledon. Obviously since then we’ve both come very far in our games and as people. Yeah, I’m sure it’s going to be extremely different to when we last encountered each other.”

WATCH | Raducanu downs Sakkari to book ticket to final:

Raducanu’s victory sets up all-teenage women’s final at U.S. Open

Toronto-born 18-year-old Emma Raducanu of Great Britain, ranked 150th in the world, defeats Maria Sakkari of Greece 6-1, 6-4. Raducanu becomes the first qualifier to reach the women’s final at the U.S Open where she will face 19-year-old Canadian Leylah Annie Fernandez. 2:50

Raducanu will be hoping for a similar outcome, though. The pair’s previous meeting came in the second round of the Wimbledon juniors in 2018, when Raducanu won 6-2 6-4.

A Cinderella story

But left-handed Fernandez, who can make her top-20 debut by winning the U.S. Open, has delivered some impressive performances. 

The Canadian has shown she can beat anyone, with victories here over four-times major winner and U.S. champion Naomi Osaka, three-times Grand Slam winner Kerber and fifth-seeded Elina Svitolina in the quarter-finals.

WATCH | Fernandez finals-bound after defeating Sablenka :

Fernandez reaches 1st career Grand Slam final with win over No. 2 seed Sabalenka

19-year-old Leylah Annie Fernandez of Laval, Que., ranked 73rd in the world, defeats second seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus 7-6 (3), 4-6, 6-4 in the semifinals of the U.S. Open. 4:23

She looked at sea against the power of big-hitting Sabalenka at the start of that match, but soon found her groove as her Belarusian opponent squandered her chances.

It was her third win in four matches against top-five players in the world.

“Like my dad would tell me all the time, there’s no limit to my potential to what I can do,” she said. “Every day we just got to keep working hard, we got to keep going for it.

“I think I’ve been doing some things incredible. I don’t know. It’s like I think 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.”

Raducanu in shock

Playing in just her fourth tour-level tournament, Raducanu has not dropped a set in New York — the first woman to make the U.S. Open final without dropping a set since German Angelique Kerber in 2016.

“Honestly I just can’t believe it. A shock. Crazy,” she said, beaming her ubiquitous smile. “To be in a Grand Slam final at this stage of my career, yeah, I have no words.”

A win in the final would see Raducanu jump to 24th in the rankings, a massive climb after starting the hardcourt major ranked 150th in the world.

“They are both young. They play fearless. They have nothing to lose playing against us,” said Sakkari. “I have to give credit to both of them, both of the young girls, that they take their chances. They’re out there fighting for that title.”