NEW YORK — Unseeded British teenager Emma Raducanu went from qualifier to champion at the U.S. Open in just her second appearance at a Grand Slam tournament.
Raducanu beat Canadian teenager Leylah Fernandez 6-4, 6-3 in the final at Flushing Meadows on Saturday to become the first player to go preliminary qualifying rounds all the way to a major title in the professional era.
The 18-year-old Raducanu, who is ranked 150th, wound up winning all 20 sets she played in New York — six in qualifying, 14 in the main draw — and is the first woman to win the singles championship without dropping a set since Serena Williams in 2014.
This was the first major final between two teens since Williams, 17, beat Martina Hingis, 18, at the 1999 U.S. Open and the first between two unseeded women.
Raducanu broke to go up 4-2 in the second set, held for 5-2 and twice was a point from winning the title in the next game. But she let both of those opportunities slip away by putting groundstrokes into the net.
Then at 5-3, while Raducanu was serving for the match, she slid on the court chasing a ball to her backhand side, bloodying her left knee. A trainer came out to put a white bandage on the cut and, during a delay of more than four minutes, Fernandez — a 19-year-old left-hander from Canada ranked 73rd — spoke to chair umpire Marijana Veljovic.
When they resumed, Raducanu saved a pair of break points, then converted on her third chance to close it, ending a 108 mph ace. She dropped her racket, landed on her back and covered her face with both hands.
Raducanu is the first British woman to win a Grand Slam trophy since Virginia Wade at Wimbledon in 1977.
She is also the youngest player to claim a women’s major title since Maria Sharapova was 17 at Wimbledon in 2004.
Fernandez was asked during a brief pre-match interview in the hallway that leads from the locker room to the court entrance what she expected Saturday’s greatest challenge to be.
“Honestly,” she responded, “I don’t know.”
Fair. Neither she nor Raducanu could have truly known what to expect in one of the unlikeliest final matchups in Grand Slam history.
Both walked out to loud ovations — Fernandez’s was slightly louder — and wearing their equipment bags with both straps over their shoulders, the way someone their age might do with a backpack for high school (Raducanu recently completed her exams) or college.
They both have played like veterans over these weeks in Flushing Meadows, with the poise and shot-making of veterans. The final was entertaining and, for the most part, even, filled with lengthy points and lengthy games. The talent and affinity for the big stage both possess is unmistakable.
Took 28 minutes for merely four games, with a break and a hold apiece making it 2-all. Both blew chances at times. At others, both came up with the goods, producing on-the-run baseline excellence.
The second set’s initial four games unfolded in the same manner — 2-all after a break and a hold apiece.
One of the significant differences came at the start of points, because that is where Fernandez faltered more. She put only 58% of her first serves in, finished with five double-faults, helping Raducanu accumulate 18 break points.
Raducanu converted four of those.
The crowd was so quiet right before and during points that one could hear the right-handed Raducanu’s slap of a leg while waiting to receive serves or her whisper of an exhale while swinging her racket.
And folks — thrilled to be back on-site after last year’s pandemic ban of all spectators — got so loud after them, especially celebrating along with the left-handed Fernandez’s physical trainer, who would leap out of his front-row corner seat and shake his fists when things went his player’s way.
Fernandez’s group — including Mom, but not Dad, who stayed home in Florida, where they moved after early success in the juniors several years ago — was in the guest box assigned to the higher-ranked player. That’s a status Fernandez was unaccustomed to in the tournament as she beat four straight seeded women, each in three sets: defending champion Naomi Osaka and 2016 champ Angelique Kerber, No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka and No. 5 Elina Svitolina.
So Fernandez came in having spent more than 12 1/2 hours on court through her six matches; Raducanu’s main-draw total was about 7 1/2 hours.
That seemed to be a factor, particularly over the second half of the 1-hour, 51-minute final.
From 4-all, Raducanu took over, taking eight of the last 11 games. When she broke to take the opener with a well-paced, well-placed forehand winner down the line, she stared at her entourage, then whipped her arms — and the fans reacted.
Raducanu’s only previous Grand Slam tournament came at Wimbledon, where she stopped playing during the fourth round because of trouble breathing. That was July, when Raducanu was ranked outside the top 300 and an unknown.
Look at her now.
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