Can Anyone Stop Leylah Fernandez?

Leylah Fernandez US Open

Leylah Fernandez delivers again! The young Canadian celebrated her 19th birthday (a day late) with a dramatic win Tuesday on Arthur Ashe Stadium over fifth seed Elina Svitolina 6-3 3-6 7-6(5). Fernandez will now face second seed Aryna Sabalenka in her first-ever slam semifinal.

Before the match

Coming into the US Open, a portion of tennis fans was already aware of Fernandez. She won the 2019 Junior French Open and got her first title at Monterrey earlier this year. Outside of that, the Canadian didn’t advance past the second round at any tournament, and it seemed the 19-year-old would need a couple of years to mature before she would become an impactful player at Slams. Fernandez would go on to stun everyone in her first US Open.

From the start, the Canadian was an underdog against Croatian Ana Konjuh. Fernandez dismissed the dangerous qualifier–who had her own US Open breakout as a teenager five years ago–surprisingly in straight sets. Next, she faced Kaia Kanepi, a 36-year-old veteran who has great memories from New York from her 2017 quarterfinal run and 2018 upset over Simona Halep. Fernandez also advanced after a straight-set victory, setting up a third-round clash with third seed Naomi Osaka. The 19-year-old gave a good, fearless performance, but it seemed to not be quite enough as Osaka was serving for the match at 7-5 6-5. However, the two-time US Open champion began to struggle, and the teenager took full advantage. Fernandez turned the match around in her favor, winning 5-7 7-6(2) 6-4.

Her next win was arguably even more impressive, as Fernandez met the 2016 US Open champion, Angelique Kerber, in the fourth round. Kerber had been in incredible form since winning Bad Homburg at the end of June, coming into the match with a 17-2 record. Fernandez once again came back from a set down and prevailed against her experienced opponent, 4-6 7-6(5) 6-2.

Marching past Svitolina

Fernandez was the underdog once again coming into her quarterfinal clash with Elina Svitolina, though the Ukrainian has a reputation of underperforming in the latter stages of slams as evidenced by her lack of a slam final run and 2-5 record in slam quarterfinals. The first set was going in an unfortunately familiar manner to Svitolina, being passive and overly defensive in rallies. Fernandez was exhibiting her trademark confidence, swinging freely in her debut quarterfinals, taking the first set 6-3.

The second set would go Svitolina’s way as she started playing with more confidence, hitting through the ball while Fernandez struggled with the consistency of her serve. The fifth seed tied the match up at one set all, taking it 6-3. Fernandez started to win more points on serve again in the third and had clearly become a crowd favorite over her run in New York as they seemed to be openly supporting her. The 19-year-old had a 5-2 lead in the deciding set but, at last, the gravity of the moment finally seemed to get to her, opening the door for Svitolina to launch a comeback, taking this match into a deciding set tiebreak. Fernandez got a minibreak to go up 4-1 in the tiebreak but Svitolina pulled the lead back once again until 5-5. Both players could taste the victory, just two points away from then. It was then that ghosts of losses past came to haunt Svitolina, failing to end the point with a volley, letting Fernandez back into the rally and into the US Open semifinals as the young Canadian won that point and the next to win the match.

What’s next?

Next up for the freshly 19-year-old Leylah Fernandez is the World No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka. Despite her ranking and tour dominance, the Belarusian had never made it past the fourth round at a Slam until Wimbledon a couple of months ago. This time, she managed to do it while dropping only one set, though her level of opposition has been certainly lower than Fernandez’s opponents. As in almost every match she has played in this tournament, Leylah Fernandez will be an underdog. That has never stopped her before, so why would it now?

Main Photo:
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