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Leylah Fernandez, against all odds, is in the U.S. Open final
What a time to be a Canadian sports fan. Consider what’s happened over the last seven weeks. At the Tokyo Olympics, Canada won a national-record 24 medals and seven gold — including historic victories by Andre De Grasse, Damian Warner and the women’s soccer team. The Paralympics brought another 21 medals. Then the Canadian women’s hockey team took back the world title from their archrivals, the U.S., on another golden goal by Marie-Philip Poulin.
The wins kept coming this week. Canada’s men’s soccer team scored its first victory of the final round of World Cup qualifying, Larry Walker became the second Canadian inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and the red-hot Blue Jays won their eighth game in a row last night to move within a half game of a playoff spot.
So much great stuff. And we haven’t even got to the biggest story in Canadian sports right now: Leylah Fernandez’s fairytale run to the U.S. Open final.
The unseeded 5-foot-6 teenager from Laval, Que., slayed another giant last night in New York, upsetting world No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka 7-6(3), 4-6, 6-4 in the women’s semifinals. Fernandez, who came into this tournament ranked 73rd in the world, has now knocked off defending champ (and global superstar) Naomi Osaka, No. 16 seed Angelique Kerber, No. 5 Elina Svitolina and the second-ranked Sabalenka in her last four matches.
To call this unexpected would be an understatement. Before this week, Fernandez, who turned 19 on Monday, had never advanced past the third round at a Grand Slam. She was 1-3 at the majors this season and got bounced in the second round at the Tokyo Olympics. Yes, she won her first WTA Tour title in March, but that was at a rinky-dink event in Mexico that paid her $29,200 US for winning the whole thing. Some oddsmakers had her listed at 250/1 to win the U.S. Open.
Now Fernandez is playing with house money. No matter what happens on Saturday, she’ll leave New York with a legion of new fans and a small fortune. The champion wins $2.5 million, and even the loser gets a cool $1.25 million — more than triple Fernandez’s earnings so far this year. When the new world rankings come out on Monday, she’ll have risen at least 46 spots, to No. 27th. If she wins the final, Fernandez will be ranked 19th — two spots ahead of Bianca Andreescu, whose 2019 U.S. Open title is about to come off the books for rankings purposes.
Standing in the way of Fernandez becoming the second Canadian ever to win a singles Slam is… another Canadian. Sort of. Emma Raducanu was born in Toronto, but she moved to England when she was two and has always represented Great Britain. So if you’re claiming her as Canadian, then you have to give up Donovan Bailey’s Olympic 100m gold medal to Jamaica.
Regardless of her nationality, Raducanu is a terrific story whose run to the final is just as stunning as Fernandez’s. She’s two months younger than the Canadian and, at 150th, ranked 77 spots lower. Before this June, Raducanu had never played in the main draw at any top-level Tour event — much less a Slam. But she immediately grabbed headlines in her native England by reaching the fourth round at Wimbledon as the world’s 338th-ranked player. Raducanu quit that match in the second set after struggling to control her breathing, later saying she thought it was caused by “a combination of everything that has gone on behind the scenes in the last week, the accumulation of the excitement, the buzz.” But anyone questioning her nerve has been silenced at the U.S. Open, where she’s breezed through a gruelling slate of three qualifiers and six main-draw matches — all without dropping a set or even needing a tiebreaker.
The result of all this is an all-teenage title match, and the first Grand Slam singles final involving two unseeded players since the start of the Open Era in 1968. So, who has the edge? Tough to say. The way Raducanu has mowed through her opponents is impressive, but she’s faced an easier path than Fernandez. The Brit’s quarter-final win over No. 11 seed Belinda Bencic and last night’s 6-1, 6-4 rout of No. 17 Maria Sakkari in the semis were her only two matchups vs. seeded players. Raducanu and Fernandez have never faced each other on Tour, so there’s no head-to-head matchup to look at. Bookmakers slightly favour Raducanu, with current odds implying she has about a 60 per cent chance of winning. But, considering literally no one predicted this matchup for the final, maybe we should just stop guessing what’ll happen next. The match is Saturday at 4 p.m. ET. Read more about it here.
Don’t forget about Felix. You know things are going great for Canadian tennis when a player can reach a Grand Slam semifinal and generate relatively little buzz. That’s how big a shadow Leylah Fernandez is casting with her magical run to the women’s title match at the U.S. Open. But another young Canadian, 21-year-old Felix Auger-Aliassime, can also reach his first Slam final today by upsetting world No. 2 Daniil Medvedev of Russia in the men’s semis. At our publish time, they were still in the first set. Check the live score here. The winner will likely face top-ranked Novak Djokovic, who’s facing No. 4 Alexander Zverev tonight at 7 p.m. ET as he looks to become the first player since Steffi Graf in 1988 to win all four singles Slams in a calendar year. The men’s final is Sunday at 4 p.m. ET. Another Canadian, Gabriela Dabrowski, lost her U.S. Open semifinal today when her Brazilian doubles partner Luisa Stefani suffered a match-ending injury in the first set.
This weekend on CBC Sports
Here’s what you can live stream and watch on TV:
Show jumping: Watch various competitions from Calgary’s Spruce Meadows live today at 5:30 p.m. ET and 8:30 p.m. ET, Saturday at 12:30 p.m. ET and 4 p.m. ET, and Sunday at 2 p.m. ET on CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app.
Triathlon: Watch the Super League event in Munich live Sunday at 8 a.m. ET on CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app.
Road to the Olympic Games: Saturday’s show features the Diamond League Final in Zurich, where Andre De Grasse capped his fantastic season by placing second in both the 100m and 200m men’s races. Stream it from 1-5 p.m ET on CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app, or watch on the CBC TV network from 2-6 p.m. in your local time. Sunday’s show features the BMO Nations’ Cup show jumping event at Spruce Meadows. Stream it from 2-4 p.m ET on CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app, or watch on the CBC TV network from 3-5 p.m. in your local time.
You’re up to speed. Have a great weekend.