Wow. What an absolutely crazy final to put a bow on the 2021 women’s Grand Slam calendar. At the start of the year, no one had heard of Emma Raducanu and very, very few knew of Leylah Fernandez.
But in the absence of a dominant player in women’s tennis, here we are. And this just follows other unlikely finals like we saw at the last two French Opens and elsewhere — remember Camila Giorgi and Jill Teichmann?
While we watched some epic chokes and collapses from the top players, credit to Emma and Leylah for keeping calm and carrying on. They rarely blinked when faced with pressure or adversity. But that changes tomorrow.
No, they’ll go from big underdog to being expected to win and bring home one of the biggest prizes in the sport on the biggest court in the world.
Raducanu’s the slight favorite but you could make a strong case for Fernandez.
The 19-year-old Canadian navigated through one of the toughest draws you can get — defeating Naomi Osaka, Angelique Kerber, Elina Svitolina and then last night took out Aryna Sabalenka. And Osaka served for the match, Kerber was up a set and a break and Svitolina was ahead.
Raducanu had a much easier draw but a much longer road. She had to come through three rounds of qualifying then caught huge break when Australian Open finalist Jennifer Brady withdrew right at the start. The 18-year-old still had to win a slew of matches and she did just that, ousting Belinda Bencic and then yesterday overwhelming an in-form Maria Sakkari.
Thus far, Raducanu has won all nine matches and all 18 sets at the US Open. Her last loss was a final of the WTA 125 in Chicago to Clara Tauson in three sets just before the New York qualifying.
Going back to last month, she’s won 13 of her last 14 matches heading into the Saturday US Open final.
So both come into the title match with a ton of confidence and belief. But after swinging freely for 10 days or so, they now face pressure.
We heard the many victims says afterward, especially of Fernandez, “she didn’t do anything, I just played badly, etc.” Well she and Raducanu did do things. They tracked down balls, didn’t make dumb mistakes and kept their poise and kept annoying the hell out of the higher seeded, super-tight veterans.
Of the two, I rate Raducanu higher. She’s bigger, plays with more power and more poise. Fernandez has the experience, has more court sense and quickness, and clearly has the bigger and better wins — and she’s won a WTA title — but Raducanu is more offensive-minded and she’s on such a roll right now. If Raducanu plays her game I think it’s hers to win. And I feel like that’s what going to happen.
A qualifier winning a Slam? Why not? Aslan Karatsev made the semifinals at the start of the year, so we should be that surprised.
The Pick: Raducanu in 2
It will be interesting to hear who the crowd roots for. And even more interesting were these two and the rest of the women’s tour go from here. Will it be Ash Barty taking over? Will Osaka return? Simona Halep is aging and getting married. Maybe it will be Iga Swiatek, Coco Gauff and these girls playing tomorrow who will become the stars. It’s hard to say.
It’s just too bad we have to wait another four months for another women’s Slam. Let the good times roll…
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