Tulsa World

Unseeded Fernandez reaches 1st Slam final

- HOWARD FENDRICH

NEW YORK — Leylah Fernandez’s first major semifinal, at the U.S. Open just days after her 19th birthday, did not go her way at the start.

Still, she recovered from dropping the initial three games to take a lead. Then, her opponent, No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka, pushed a match filled with momentum swings to a third set. No matter what, Fernandez did not worry. Didn’t waver.

And why would she at this point? The Canadian’s poise, it seems, is as limitless has her potential. And no foe, no matter how accomplish­ed or highly ranked, poses an insurmount­able problem. Speedy afoot and steady at crunch time, the unseeded Fernandez edged Sabalenka 7-6 (3), 4-6, 6-4 on Thursday night in Arthur Ashe Stadium, earning right to play for a Grand Slam title.

It was the 73rd-ranked

Fernandez’s fourth consecutiv­e three-set victory over a seeded opponent. First came No. 3 Naomi Osaka, the 2018 and 2020 U.S. Open champion. Then came No. 16 Angelique Kerber, the 2016 champ. That was followed by No. 5 Elina Svitolina and Sabalenka.

“That’s years and years

and years of hard work and tears and blood,” said Fernandez, who could give Canada its second U.S. Open women’s title in quick succession, following Bianca Andreescu’s triumph in 2019. “Everything. On court, off court. Sacrifices.”

Fernandez, whose birthday was Monday, was born in Montreal to an Ecuadorian father — who is also her coach, although he is not with her in New York, instead offering coaching tips in daily phone conversati­ons — and a Filipino Canadian mother. The family now lives in Florida.

In Saturday’s final, the left-handed Fernandez will face either another unseeded teen, 18-year-old qualifier Emma Raducanu of Britain, or 17th-seeded Maria Sakkari of Greece. Neither of them has participat­ed in a Grand Slam title match, either.

At the end of the first set and again the third, it was Sabalenka, a Wimbledon semifinali­st in July, who let things get away from her. In the last game, she double-faulted twice in a row to set up match point, then sailed a forehand long.

Fernandez collapsed to the court and put her hands to her face.

 ?? ELISE AMENDOLA, ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Leylah Fernandez celebrates after winning the first set against Aryna Sabalenka during Thursday’s semifinals of the US Open in New York.
ELISE AMENDOLA, ASSOCIATED PRESS Leylah Fernandez celebrates after winning the first set against Aryna Sabalenka during Thursday’s semifinals of the US Open in New York.

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