Leylah Fernandez’s storybook US Open continued with yet another upset on Thursday (September 9) as the Canadian teenager shocked second seed Aryna Sabalenka 7-6(3), 4-6, 6-4 to reach her first Grand Slam final. Rankings-wise, the second seeded Belarusian represented the toughest challenge yet for the 19-year-old lefhander but with a string of seeded victims behind her Fernandez had already shown she could not be intimidated.
The 73rd ranked Canadian has stated she could beat anyone and backed up the bravado with victories over four-time Grand Slam winner and defending champion Naomi Osaka in the third round, three-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber in the fourth and fifth seed Elina Svitolina in the quarter-finals.
Sabalenka, one of the game’s big servers, threw everything she had at Fernandez, including 10 aces, but had no better luck against the youngster, who played with veteran poise throughout the three-set thriller.
Fernandez now awaits the winner of the match between 18-year-old Briton Emma Raducanu and 17th seeded Greek Maria Sakkari. If Raducanu can follow Fernandez into Saturday’s final it would mark the eighth Grand Slam final in the Open era to feature two teenagers and the first since the 1999 US Open between Serena Williams and Martina Hingis.
“I have no idea,” said Fernandez when asked how she pulled off another upset. “I just wanted to be in the finals, I really wanted it … I don’t know how I got that last point in.”
Sabalenka, bidding for her first Grand Slam final, came out all guns blazing, blasting away from baseline and racing to 3-0 lead in just eight minutes. But just as it looked as if Fernandez might be blown off the court she steadied herself and reproduced the kind of fearless shot-making that has made her the darling of Flushing Meadows.
The Canadian broke back at 4-3 and went on to dominate the tiebreak 7-3. A fired up Sabalenka broke Fernandez to open the second set but the Canadian broke back to level at 2-2, driving a clenched fist into the air that has become her trademark salute.
The Belarusian earned a decisive break to nose in front 5-4 and confidently held serve to send the match to a decider. But in a tense third set it was Sabalenka who cracked.
Serving at 5-4 to stay in match she double faulted twice then sent a return long to gift victory to Fernandez, who dropped to the court and covered her face as the crowd roared.