18-year-old British qualifier Emma Raducanu is now the youngest Grand Slam finalist, after defeating Greece’s Maria Sakkari in the semi-final of the ongoing edition of the US Open. Raducanu defeated Sakkari, the No.17 seed, 6-1, 6-4, to become the first qualifier to reach a Grand Slam final in Open era history. She will take on unseeded 19-year-old Leylah Fernandez who had earlier become the youngest Grand Slam finalist since Maria Sharapova in 2004, in the final. Leylah’s fantastic run in the 2021 US Open continued after the Canadian registered yet another high-profile upset, advancing to the first Grand Slam final of her young career. The upcoming star pulled off a 7-6, 4-6, 6-4 win over No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus.
Raducanu has won 18 consecutive sets since the start of qualifying, and dropped a mere 27 games in her six main-draw victories. The British tennis star is ranked 150 on the world rankings, but showcased maturity beyond the years against Sakkari, capitalising on every error made by the Greek to build a 5-0 lead in the opening set. The latter had been impressive over the course of the tournament but struggled with a total of seven winners against 17 unforced errors in set one.
“I think there’s definitely an element of being young and free. I think that’s a big weapon and it’s quite a nice feeling to have, playing as the complete underdog. You just have a free swing. For us it’s nice to play free, I haven’t experienced it from the other side,” said Raducanu in an interview with ESPN.
The second set saw the Greek rallying from 0-40 down to hold for 3-4, and then forcing Raducanu to serve it out with a hold for 4-5, after conceding a 1-2 lead. However, Raducanu reeled off four straight points from 0-15 to close out her victory in one hour and 24 minutes. The Britisher put her hands incredulously over her head, joining Pam Shriver (1978), Venus Williams (1997) and Bianca Andreescu (2019) as the fourth player to have played the final on her US Open main draw debut. She is further the first British woman to reach a major singles final in 44 years.
Raducanu’s victory sets up the first all-teenage final at the Grand Slams since 1999. The last instance witnessed 17-year-old Serena Williams taking out 18-year-old Martina Hingis, 6-3, 7-6, in a fine encounter.
Leylah has now defeated three Top 5 players en route to the title fight. She had earlier defeated defending champion Naomi Osaka and fifth-ranked Elina Svitolina. The 19-year-old is only the fourth Canadian woman in the Open Era to advance to the last four at a major, following in the footsteps of Carling Bassett-Seguso, Eugenie Bouchard, and Bianca Andreescu.
“That’s years and years and years of hard work, and tears and blood, everything, on-court, off-court sacrifices. I just wanted to be in the final. Really wanted it. I fought for every point. Aryna fought for the same thing. I don’t know how I got that last point, but I’m glad I did,” said Leylah after the triumph.