NEW YORK -- Leylah Farandez was certain she could defeat the best in the world.
She was not able to get past the third round in a major tournament before the 2021 US Open.
She was beaten by Naomi Osaka, the defending champion and former world No. The Canadian, 1 Naomi Osaka had won the third round match against the former world No. Although she won the match in three sets, she was not dismayed. Moments later, she was asked by the court when she realized that she had won the match.
The No. 73-ranked player didn't hesitate in her response.
Fernandez stated, "From the beginning, right before match, I knew that I could win."
Fernandez, aged 19, will be competing for the US Open title. She will also face Emma Raducanu (18 years old), who is ranked No. 150, representing Great Britain. This is the match no one expected, but it has captured the attention of casual tennis fans. It is a showdown that even non-professionals can't miss.
Alexandra Stevenson, a 18-year-old qualifier, said that both she and Stevenson have self-belief. You can see that they believe everything is possible. Gen Z isn't just coming; they've already arrived and know where they belong.
Fernandez's giant-slaying abilities have amazed tennis fans, as she has knocked off some of the most prominent names in tennis in New York. She has now faced Angelique Kerber (world No. 1), three-time major champion, since beating Osaka. 5 Elina Svitolina, world No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka. She was in need of a deciding set, but she found a way against her veterans to win.
Raducanu believes it is not so much who she has defeated, but how she won them that has made heads turn. She has not lost a set in her second Grand Slam main draw. Shelby Rogers, who beat Ash Barty in a match earlier, lost just three games to the teenager in round four. No. Maria Sakkari, 17th seed, was almost defeated and won just one game in the semifinals.
Emma Raducanu was the youngest Grand Slam finalist after Maria Sharapova in 2004. Photo by TPN/Getty Images
Despite being in unfamiliar territory, both players have shown little sign of nerves and pressure. Sheriece Sadberry, a Florida-based psychologist who has worked alongside NCAA and Olympic athletes, is not surprised at their calmness or confidence.
Sadberry stated, "At that stage, and this has been true for so many athletes who I have worked with at collegiate level, they have always ranked among the top athletes." They can see their potential to compete at a high-level and begin to believe it. They see that they are so good young and they believe it can be a great career. They've never had to lose to someone they expected to beat and they don't have those moments yet.
Raducanu and Fernandez are not the first teenagers to reach such great success on the sport's most prestigious stages. In the past, tennis was dominated by younger players -- Martina Hingis (1997), Monica Seles (1990), and Tracy Austin (1979) won major titles as 16 year-olds. But with the long athletic careers and dominance of Serena Williams over the last two decades, it's been harder for youth to succeed. Williams, who won her first Grand Slam at 17 years old at the 1999 US Open, was 35 when she became the oldest woman winner of a major title at 2017 Australian Open. Editor's Choices This is their moment: A historic all-teen final will conclude an Open that was dominated by young star power Ohm Jungmisuk
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As Williams' career is nearing its end, there have been glimpses into the future. The next generation of tennis stars has begun to emerge. Bianca Andreescu was 19 and Iga Swaiatek was 20 when they won the 2020 French Open title and the US Open. Osaka (2018 US Open), and Sofia Kenin (20th Australian Open) were their maiden titles.
Those players still had far more experience than Fernandez or Raducanu. Osaka and Andreescu had won 1000-level events each, Kenin had won three WTA titles, and Swiatek had seven ITF singles trophy trophies.
Fernandez is in her second year playing on the WTA tour and her first full season since the pandemic that decimated much of 2020's schedule. Fernandez won her first title at the Monterrey Open 250-level in March. The US Open is her seventh major main draw. Raducanu made her WTA debut in Nottingham in June. However, she made the most of her time on tour and reached the fourth round at Wimbledon earlier this year as a wildcard.
Rennae, a four-time major duals champion and ESPN analyst, stated that it was amazing what the two of them are doing without having to use the rsum. They are doing a great job despite not having had much match play. However, I believe they are both focused on each point independently. They are embracing the crowd, embrace the moment and they don't shy away from it.
Leylah Fernandez's upset of Naomi Osaka, top-seeded, was one of the highlights of the tournament. Photo by Paul Zimmer/Imago/Icon Sportswire
Fernandez will face Raducanu on Saturday to compete for the title and the chance to fulfill a childhood dream. Raducanu said she didn't expect to be in this situation after Thursday's semifinal victory over Sakkari, but she knew she could.
Raducanu stated, "I believe that I felt inside that I had a level similar to these girls. But I wasn't sure if it was possible to sustain it over a set or two sets." "To be able do it, and to play the best players around the world and beat them, it's unbelievable.
Fernandez and Raducanu last played each other in the second round at Wimbledon's 2018 junior tournament. Raducanu won in straight sets. But, things have changed and each player has a chance at tennis immortality. Both of their opponents have spoken about the privilege they have enjoyed as underdogs who are able to play freely and without expectation, but this match is certain to be different. Although neither has shown any signs of vulnerability, the stakes are higher than ever.
Sadberry stated that they cannot allow themselves to be distracted by any of this if they want win.
"The No. Sadberry stated, "The No. It's just one match. It's just a match, and you have to trust your muscle memory. We add pressure to it when we call it "the biggest match". If you add pressure to it, you will start to worry. You'll lose the things that have made you great. Focus on each point.