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Updated on: Saturday, September 11, 2021, 11:42 PM IST

US Open Tennis: Global citizens, teen finalists have fans all over; Emma and Leylah usher in a dynamic new era

AFP
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New York: Emma Raducanu first met Leylah Fernandez at a tournament for players 12 and under, around the time one of Fernandez's teachers urged her to give up the tennis dream.

They shared a love of the game and a connection to Canada, where Fernandez lived and Raducanu was born, helping build a quick relationship. But the teenagers have much more in common, maybe more than they realised.

"I just think that the matchup and what we're seeing, those two ladies are touching a lot of young girls," said Jorge Fernandez, Leylah's father and coach.

People will be watching in Asia: The 18-year-old Raducanu's mother is from China and the 19-year-old Fernandez's is Filipino Canadian.

And in Latin America: Jorge Fernandez is from Ecuador. And in Europe: Raducanu's father is from Romania. And, of course, in Canada: Fernandez was born in Montreal (although she has been based in Florida for several years); Raducanu was born in Toronto and still holds a passport from that country (her family moved to England when she was 2).

Beyond being terrific tennis players, these teenagers are citizens of the world.

"This can only be good for the tennis game and for the WTA altogether," said Jorge Fernandez, who answered questions during a Zoom interview Friday in English, Spanish and French.

Leylah Fernandez was relatively unknown in the Philippines and Ecuador before beating defending champion Naomi Osaka in the third round. She has since drawn plenty of attention from local media in both countries, with mentions of her family's roots.

Char Abalos was among the fans who woke up early Friday in Manila to watch Fernandez beat No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka in a semifinal match that took place Thursday night in New York.

"She looks very calm but at the same time cheerful in the court," Abalos said, noting that many tennis players are often quick to frown.

"Leylah is so calm, just making sure that the crowd is enjoying."

Leylah didn't always have such support.

She remembers being in the fifth or sixth grade and being encouraged to quit spending so much time on her backhand and pay more attention to the blackboard.

"I remember one teacher, which was actually very funny - at the time wasn't, but now I'm laughing," Fernandez said.

"She told me to stop playing tennis, You will never make it and just focus on school".

Instead, her family dug in more, with Jorge Fernandez remembering his daughter winning a tournament at 12 that featured players who were 16. Perhaps that got her ready for a U.S. Open draw that featured three players ranked in the top five.

She is the first qualifier to reach a Grand Slam final. Raducanu beat Fernandez in the junior Wimbledon tournament in 2018, but their skills, and fans, have only grown.

This meeting is the first Grand Slam final between teenagers since the 1999 U.S. Open, when Serena Williams, 17, beat Martina Hingis, 18.

Fernandez will be trying to give Canada its second 19-year-old champion in three years, after Bianca Andreescu beat Williams to win the 2019 title.

Their pursuit of tennis success from opposite sides of the Atlantic made it difficult for Fernandez and Raducanu to keep up the relationship that started when they bonded over their Canadian roots during a tournament in Florida.

Raducanu said they say hello whenever they see each other. On Saturday, they did it standing across the net from each other in the biggest stadium in the sport.

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Published on: Saturday, September 11, 2021, 11:42 PM IST
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