New York – Canadian teen sensation Leylah Fernandez advanced to her first Grand Slam final on Thursday by defeating world No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus in the U.S. Open semifinals.
The 19-year-old prodigy eliminated Sabalenka 7-6 (7-3), 4-6, 6-4 and could capture her first Grand Slam crown on Saturday at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
"I don't know how I got that last point in but I'm glad it was and I'm glad I'm in the finals," Fernandez said.
Fernandez, a left-hander who is 73rd in the world rankings, has defeated three players ranked in the Top 5 during the tournament, having already dispatched defending champion Naomi Osaka and fifth-seeded Elina Svitolina. She is the first player to do that at a Grand Slam since Serena Williams at Wimbledon in 2012.
She will face British 18-year-old Emma Raducanu,who became the first qualifier to ever reach a Grand Slam final by defeating Greek No. 17 seed Maria Sakkari 6-1, 6-4.
Raducanu, ranked 150th, became the youngest Grand Slam finalist since 17-year-old Maria Sharapova won at Wimbledon in 2004.
It's the first Grand Slam final between teens since a 17-year-old Williams beat 18-year-old Martina Hingis at the 1999 US Open — and only the eighth in the Open era (since 1968).
"I don't care. I just want to play a final," Fernandez said. "I'm going to enjoy my victory and worry about it tomorrow."
Fernandez, who turned 19 on Monday, had never gone beyond the third round in her six prior Grand Slam appearances.
Sabalenka broke in the second game of the match on a forehand volley winner and dominated early with powerful shots. Fernandez found her form and broke back to 4-3 on a Sabalenka double fault and they held into a tiebreaker.
Fernandez's father-coach Jorge preached mental toughness in her training and it showed in the tiebreak.
Sabalenka, 23, netted a forehand with a wide-open court to hand Fernandez a 3-2 edge. The teen never trailed after that, winning the last four points to claim the first set in 53 minutes.
"That's years and years of work and tears and blood and sacrifice," Fernandez said of her mental toughness.
Fernandez blasted a service winner to take a 4-3 lead, saw Sabalenka misfire on an overhead smash wide and double fault, then fired another service winner for the set, prompting the Arthur Ashe stadium music director to play the Eric Clapton song "Layla" as the crowd roared.
"I have no idea (how I won)," said Fernandez. "I'd say it's thanks to the New York crowd. They helped me. They cheered for me. They never gave up."
Sabalenka broke to open the second set but Fernandez broke back to 2-2 with a backhand slice winner.
Fernandez, however, sent a forehand long to surrender a break in the ninth game and Sabalenka held at love to force a third set.
After an exchange of breaks in the sixth and seventh games, Fernandez held to 5-4 and Sabalenka crumbled with the match on the line, issuing back-to-back double faults and sending a forehand long to fall after 2 hours, 21 minutes.
Fernandez hit 26 winners with 23 unforced errors to 52 unforced errors by Sabalenka with 45 winners.
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