The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)
Youth will be served in the women’s final
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 realized.
They will attract an audience to their U.S. Open women’s final Saturday that extends far beyond the fans who will be at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“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.”
The player who emerges Saturday as a new face of tennis will be a lot like last year’s U.S. Open champion. Osaka was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and Haitian father, with the family moving to New York when she was young.