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Teen dream: Raducanu, 18, Fernandez, 19, into U.S. Open final

Raducanu, an 18-year-old from Britain who is ranked 150th, and Fernandez, a 19-year-old from Canada who is ranked 73rd, will meet in Saturday's final at Flushing Meadows.
Image: TOPSHOT-TENNIS-US-OPEN-2021
Britain's Emma Raducanu reacts after winning her semifinal match against Greece's Maria Sakkari.Timothy A. Clary / AFP - Getty Images

Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez are so similar in so many ways: They possess enviable quickness and anticipation. They take balls low to the ground and redirect them with ease. They don’t care how much better-known or more successful opponents are. They love the big moment.

There's more. They’re both teenagers. They’re both unseeded at the U.S. Open. They’re both getting loud backing from the crowds. And now, remarkably, they’re both Grand Slam finalists.

Raducanu, an 18-year-old from Britain who is ranked 150th, and Fernandez, a 19-year-old from Canada who is ranked 73rd, took wildly different paths to the championship match at Flushing Meadows on Thursday night. They’ll be back in Arthur Ashe Stadium on Saturday for the first major final between two teens since the 1999 U.S. Open, when Serena Williams, 17, defeated Martina Hingis, 18.

Raducanu became the first qualifier to reach a Grand Slam final in the professional era by overwhelming 17th-seeded Maria Sakkari 6-1, 6-4. Appearing in just her second major tournament, Raducanu won all 18 sets she has played during three matches in qualifying rounds and six in the main draw.

“I've just been taking care of each day,” Raducanu said, “and before you know it, three weeks later, I'm in the final and I can't believe it.”

Who can? Not Raducanu, who originally bought a plane ticket to leave New York after qualifying ended, figuring that might be the end of her stay.

She is now the youngest Slam finalist since Maria Sharapova won Wimbledon at age 17 in 2004.

Fernandez isn’t much older — her birthday was Monday — and she made it through a semifinal filled with momentum swings to edge No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka 7-6 (3), 4-6, 6-4.

Leylah Fernandez of Canada reacts after defeating Aryna Sabalenka.Seth Wenig / AP

“They are both young. They play fearless,” Sakkari said about Raducanu and Fernandez. “They have nothing to lose playing against us.”

Raducanu agreed with that assessment, saying: “Being young, there is an element of you do play completely free.”

Wimbledon was Raducanu's only previous major tournament; she entered via a wild-card entry with a ranking outside the top 300 and made it to the fourth round before stopping in the second set because of trouble breathing. Fernandez's best past showing at a Slam was getting to the third round at Roland Garros last year.

“I’m glad that whatever I’m doing on court, the fans are loving it — and I’m loving it, too,” Fernandez said. “We’ll say it’s magical.”

This was the left-handed Fernandez’s fourth consecutive three-set victory over a seeded opponent. First came No. 3 Naomi Osaka, the 2018 and 2020 U.S. Open champion. Then came No. 16 Angelique Kerber, the 2016 champ. That was followed by No. 5 Elina Svitolina and Sabalenka.

“There’s no limit to what I can do. I’m just glad that right now everything’s going well,” said Fernandez, who could give Canada its second U.S. Open women’s title in quick succession, following Bianca Andreescu’s triumph in 2019.

Raducanu and Fernandez are both very much citizens of the world.

Raducanu was born in Toronto to a Chinese mother and Romanian father; the family moved to England when Emma was 2.

Fernandez was born in Montreal to a Filipino Canadian mother and Ecuadorian father; the family moved to Florida after Leylah had success as a junior at age 12. Dad is also her coach, although he is not with her in New York, instead offering coaching tips in daily phone conversations.

Raducanu and Fernandez met each other for the first time when they were both playing in under-12 tournaments and bonded over their shared connection to Canada. On Saturday, they will share a court for the first time in a tour-level match.

They did play, however, in the Wimbledon junior tournament's second round in 2018.

Raducanu won that one. Three years later, they'll play again — on a grander stage and with much, much more at stake.