The Washington Post Sunday

England’s Emma Raducanu, 18, is first qualifier to win U.S. Open

Brit takes battle of teens to become first qualifier to win major in Open era

- BY LIZ CLARKE

new york — At every round of the U.S. Open, teenagers Emma Raducanu of Britain and Leylah Fernandez of Canada rose to each challenge in their unlikely march to Saturday’s final.

But it was Raducanu, 18, who completed the improbable story line at Arthur Ashe Stadium by winning a battle of brave shotmaking and defensive grit to claim the U.S. Open — her first Grand Slam championsh­ip — in her tournament debut, 6-4, 6-3.

Raducanu became the first qualifier to win a Grand Slam title in the sport’s Open era. And she did it without conceding a set over 10 matches — three in the qualifying phase to simply earn a spot in the 128-player field and seven during the tournament.

For the achievemen­t, the recent high school graduate collected a $2.5 million check that will boost her year-to-date earnings of $268,191 roughly tenfold. Fernandez, 19, collected $1.25 million as the runner-up.

As they embraced at the net after a final ace by Raducanu clinched the victory, they represente­d a striking portrait of what the future of women’s tennis may look like — confident, creative, brave and determined.

On another level, as cheering fans of each proudly held aloft British and Canadian flags in the stands of Arthur Ashe Stadium, Raducanu and Fernandez formed a powerful tableau of immigrant families seeking an opportunit­y to build a better life for their children.

Raducanu, whose mother is Chinese and father is Romanian, thanked her coaches, her trainers, British tennis greats Virginia Wade and Tim Henman, and Britain’s Lawn Tennis Associatio­n for their support over the course of her career, which she sandwiched between her studies.

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She also congratula­ted Fernandez on an outstandin­g tournament.

“She played some incredible tennis and beat some of the top players in the world,” Raducanu said. “It was a difficult match. I hope we play each other in many more tournament­s and, hopefully, finals.”

Fernandez, whose fathercoac­h is from Ecuador and mother is Filipino-Canadian, thanked her parents and close-knit team for believing in her potential. And on the 20th anniversar­y of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, which occurred before she and Raducanu were born, she paid tribute to New York.

“I know this day was especially hard for New Yorkers and everyone around the United States,” Fernandez told the crowd, which had cheered her gutsy comebacks against top seeds all tournament and did its best to pull her through the second set Saturday. “I just hope I can be as strong and as resilient as New York has been the past 20 years.”

Raducanu’s win even reverberat­ed in Balmoral Castle, the Scottish vacation home of England’s Royal Family. “It is a remarkable achievemen­t at such a young age,” read a statement from Queen Elizabeth II. “And is testament to your hard work and dedication. I have no doubt your outstandin­g performanc­e, and that of your opponent Leylah Fernandez, will inspire the next generation of tennis players.”

They were the first teenagers to meet in the U.S. Open final since 1999, when Serena Williams won the first of her 23 major titles, at 17, over Martina Hingis, 18.

They were also the least likely in memory.

The 150th-ranked Raducanu made her Grand Slam debut just two months prior, at Wimbledon, where she was forced to withdraw from her wildly hyped fourth-round match after developing breathing difficulti­es. The unseeded Fernandez, ranked 73rd, was competing in just her second U.S. Open.

The famously partisan U.S. Open crowd didn’t take sides in the contest — at least not at the outset — but stood and applauded the achievemen­t of each as they walked onto the court. Among the 23,703 fans were past U.S. Open champions Billie Jean King, for whom the venue is named; Wade, the last British woman to win a Grand Slam, in 1977; Kim Clijsters; Tracy Austin; and Andy Roddick.

Raducanu served first and held with relative ease, then broke Fernandez to take a 2-0 lead.

Fernandez dug in and battled back, as she had in four consecutiv­e three-set battles against far more accomplish­ed opponents. She broke back immediatel­y to level the score.

Fernandez, who is generously listed as 5-feet-6, has developed weapons to compensate for her slight stature — sharply angled serves, back-spinning drop shots and grit.

But for nearly every weapon Fernandez deployed, Raducanu, who is 5-9 and the more powerful hitter, had an answer. She had little trouble with Fernandez’s left-handed serve. And she covered the court impressive­ly when yanked side to side or coaxed forward by a drop shot.

Serving at 4-5, Fernandez fought off three set points before Raducanu clinched it with a forehand winner down the line.

From that point, the crowd got behind Fernandez, whether selfishly rooting for her to rally and extend the contest to three sets or simply favoring her moxie and prizefight­er’s spirit.

Fernandez actively courted the crowd’s support as she mounted her second-set comeback, fighting off the understand­able fatigue of her tough road to the final. She upset three top-five players in three-set battles — No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka, No. 3 Naomi Osaka and No. 5 Elina Svitolina — to earn the right to contest the U.S. Open final.

But her toughest hurdle, as it turned out, was the unheralded Raducanu, whom she had last faced in the second round of the 2018 Wimbledon junior tournament. Raducanu won that contest. But Fernandez was stronger, fitter and more match-toughened when she arrived at the U.S. Open this year. And she gained confidence, deservedly so, with each victory.

Momentum rocked back and forth in the second set. They traded service breaks before Fernandez’s tricky left-handed serve began failing her.

In a must-hold service game at 2-5, Fernandez fended off two match points — the second with a forehand winner down the line that whipped the crowd into a frenzy.

That put the match in Raducanu’s hands, as she stepped up to serve at 5-3. But in racing to retrieve a deep ball, she slid on the hard court and scraped her left shin mid-stride.

The scrape sent a ribbon of blood trickling down her shin, and play was halted for a medical timeout so a trainer could bandage the wound.

Fernandez was clearly frustrated by the halt in play and appeared to argue with an official about the fairness.

When play resumed, Raducanu got back to work. And in short order, she blasted the serve that won the match and fell on her back in joyful disbelief.

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 ?? ELSA/GETTY IMAGES ?? Emma Raducanu didn’t drop a set in winning 10 matches in a row in New York — three in qualifying and seven in the main draw.
ELSA/GETTY IMAGES Emma Raducanu didn’t drop a set in winning 10 matches in a row in New York — three in qualifying and seven in the main draw.
 ?? AL BELLO/GETTY IMAGES ?? Britain’s Emma Raducanu, 18, defeated Canada’s Leylah Fernandez, 19, in straight sets in the first all-teen U.S. Open final since 1999.
AL BELLO/GETTY IMAGES Britain’s Emma Raducanu, 18, defeated Canada’s Leylah Fernandez, 19, in straight sets in the first all-teen U.S. Open final since 1999.

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