Canada’s Leylah Fernandez youngest U.S. Open semifinalist in 16 years

2021 US Open - Day 9
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NEW YORK — When Leylah Fernandez wins a pivotal point at the U.S. Open — and she’s won enough of them to become the tournament’s youngest semifinalist since Maria Sharapova in 2005 — the teenager with the exciting game and enthusiasm to match raises her right fist or windmills her arms, firing up herself and the crowd.

What often happens next, after good points or bad, is just as important to the success of the unseeded Canadian left-hander with the quick reflexes: She’ll turn her back to the court and her opponent, face the wall behind the baseline for a few moments, gather herself and repeat whatever that day’s mantra of choice is.

During Tuesday’s 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (5) victory against No. 5 seed Elina Svitolina in Arthur Ashe Stadium, which followed wins over past U.S. Open champions and former No. 1s Naomi Osaka and Angelique Kerber, Fernandez focused on self-belief.

“I was only thinking of trusting myself, trusting my game. After every point, win or lose, I would always tell myself, ‘Trust my game. Go for my shots. Just see where the ball goes,’” said Fernandez, who turned 19 on Monday and had never been past the third round in her previous half-dozen major appearances. “I see what I’m feeling. I see if there’s one phrase that really catches me or that makes me more motivated than the others. I just keep it throughout the match.”

It’s working. And with no players from the United States left to pull for, the U.S. Open fans are adopting a neighbor from the North to treat as one of their own — although the 73rd-ranked Fernandez actually is based in Florida after being born in Montreal to a Filipino Canadian mother and an Ecuadorian father.

Fernandez’s father is also her coach but isn’t in New York; he stayed home for what Fernandez called “personal reasons” and is offering tips in daily phone conversations.

“I called him right after the match, when I went to the locker room,” she said. “He honestly told me that I put him through hell and back with this match.”

And the spectators loved every minute of it.

“Thanks to you, I was able to push through today,” she told the crowd after edging Svitolina, the Tokyo Olympics bronze medalist whose been to two Grand Slam semifinals, including at the 2019 U.S. Open.

Truth is, Fernandez likes the spotlight.

Asked whether she’s more nervous against a top player in a big arena or a lower-ranked player at a smaller site, her reply was simple: “There’s no difference.”

Hard to argue that right now.

It was touch-and-go down the stretch — even after Fernandez grabbed the opening set, even after she led 5-2 in the third. One way in which she held a clear advantage: Of points that lasted more than eight shots, Fernandez won 26, Svitolina 16.

Five times, Fernandez was two points from winning but failed to collect the next point. Finally, at 5-all in the tiebreaker, she moved to match point when she smacked a down-the-line passing shot that got past Svitolina with the help of a bounce off the net tape.

Fernandez gestured as if to say, “Sorry about that,” while Svitolina put a hand to her mouth in dismay.

“A little bit lucky,” Fernandez said at her news conference. “But I’ll take all the luck I can get.”

Svitolina’s backhand contributed to her undoing late, and when a return from that side landed long, it was over. Fernandez dropped to her knees at the baseline and covered her face; Svitolina walked around the net to come over for a hug.

Next on this magical ride for Fernandez will come yet another test against a player who is ranked higher and has more experience success on the sport’s biggest stages. On Thursday, she will play No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka, a Wimbledon semifinalist in July, who defeated French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova 6-1, 6-4.

Krejcikova was the only woman in the round of eight at the U.S. Open with a Grand Slam title.

Sabalenka and Krejcikova’s night match was to be followed by the men’s quarterfinal between another young Canadian, 21-year-old Felix Auger-Aliassime, and 18-year-old Carlos Alcaraz of Spain. The winner of that will face No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev in the semifinals.

Medvedev, a 25-year-old from Russia, earned a spot in the final four at Flushing Meadows for the third consecutive year by stopping the surprising run of Dutch qualifier Botic van de Zandschulp 6-3, 6-0, 4-6, 7-5.

As in the women’s draw, only one man in the quarterfinals already owns a major trophy: Novak Djokovic, who not only is seeking a record-breaking 21st but also trying to become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win a calendar-year Grand Slam.

Medvedev has come close. He lost to Djokovic in this year’s Australian Open final and to Rafael Nadal in the 2019 U.S. Open final.

The only way he could meet Djokovic this time would be in the title match on Sunday. But first thing’s first.

“I don’t think about him, because as we saw, anybody can beat anybody,” Medvedev said. “If he’s in the final, and if I’m there, I’m happy. He’s also happy, I guess.”

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Eliud Kipchoge, two races shy of his target, to make Boston Marathon debut

Eliud Kipchoge Berlin Marathon
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World record holder Eliud Kipchoge will race the Boston Marathon for the first time on April 17.

Kipchoge, who at September’s Berlin Marathon lowered his world record by 30 seconds to 2:01:09, has won four of the six annual major marathons — Berlin, Tokyo, London and Chicago.

The 38-year-old Kenyan has never raced Boston, the world’s oldest annual marathon dating to 1897, nor New York City but has repeated in recent years a desire to enter both of them.

Typically, he has run the London Marathon in the spring and the Berlin Marathon in the fall.

Kipchoge’s last race in the U.S. was the 2014 Chicago Marathon, his second of 10 consecutive marathon victories from 2014 through 2019.

He can become the first reigning men’s marathon world record holder to finish the Boston Marathon since South Korean Suh Yun-Bok set a world record of 2:25:39 in Boston in 1947, according to the Boston Athletic Association.

In 2024 in Paris, Kipchoge is expected to race the Olympic marathon and bid to become the first person to win three gold medals in that event.

The Boston Marathon field also includes arguably the second- and third-best men in the world right now — Kipchoge’s Kenyan training partners Evans Chebet and Benson Kipruto. Chebet won Boston and New York City this year. Kipruto won Boston last year and Chicago this year.

American Des Linden, who won Boston in 2018, headlines the women’s field.

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2024 Tour de France to end with Nice time trial due to Paris Olympics

2024 Tour de France Nice
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The 2024 Tour de France will end on the French Riviera instead of the French capital because of the Paris Olympics.

The finish of cycling’s marquee race leaves Paris for the first time since 1905.

Tour organizers said on Thursday the last stage of its 111th race will take place in the Mediterranean resort of Nice on July 21. Five days later, Paris opens the Olympics.

Because of security and logistical reasons, the French capital won’t have its traditional Tour finish on the Champs-Elysees. Parting with tradition of a sprint on the Champs-Elysees, the last stage will be an individual time trial along Nice’s famed Promenade des Anglais.

The start of the 2024 race, which will begin for the first time in Italy, was brought forward by one week, a customary change during an Olympic year. The Tour will start on June 29 in Florence.

Nice has hosted the Tour 37 times, including its start twice, in 1981 and in 2020. Two years ago, the start was delayed until Aug. 29 due to lockdowns and travels bans during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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