This is unbelievable. I’m still in disbelief at the events that unfolded on Saturday night as Emma Raducanu defeated Leylah Fernandez, 6-4 6-3 in Saturday’s all-teen final to win the 2021 US Open. I’m back from a week away and have so much to catch up on the blog from the last week. I’m going to take a few steps back and monologue my thoughts before addressing the final. Stay with me 😂.
Even with the swirling vortex of recency bias, this has been one of the most exciting Slams I can remember since I started following tennis religiously about ten years ago. There have been plenty of unexpected women’s finals and surprise champions. Definitely nothing of this magnitude though and a Slam final between Leylah Fernandez against Emma Raducanu. The world number 73 against the world number 150.
Fernandez had never previously made it to the second week of a Slam. I have to admit she’d kind of dropped off my radar after a quiet six months. Since winning her first WTA title in Monterrey in March, Fernandez hadn’t won back-to-back matches in a WTA main draw and had posted a 9-11 W-L record.
Fernandez’s route to the final was extraordinary. Ana Konjuh, Kaia Kanepi, Naomi Osaka, Angelique Kerber, Elina Svitolina and Aryna Sabalenka. When I did my Draw Challenge, Konjuh was an instant pick in that first round match. I was quite confident of Konjuh having a run and didn’t even consider picking Fernandez 🤦♂️.
The first two rounds of Konjuh and Kanepi were tough. Then to beat Osaka, Kerber, Svitolina and Sabalenka. That’s two of the biggest hitters, world number two and world number three, and two of the best counter punchers on tour. And all in three sets! And the first two matches from a set and a break down! Seriously, what an incredible run. I can’t throw enough superlatives at it.
I kept thinking Leylah would run out of steam. I thought she had a good shot against Svitolina in the quarter-finals but I honestly thought Kerber would be too strong in the fourth round and Sabalenka would have too much weaponry in the semi-finals. And all these matches were super entertaining to watch. As it stands (still so many night matches to catch up on!!!) Fernandez-Kerber is my match of the tournament. The end of the second set was bloody brilliant.
Fernandez was absolutely fearless. Her mental strength to knock off all these champions in some really tight moments was really quite surprising. Hugeee fan of that leftie forehand! Reminds me of Lucie! I love how Fernandez captured the imagination of the crowd and harnessed their energy.
There are so many stats around Raducanu’s run. The stat that moves me – Raducanu is the FIRST qualifier in the Open Era to reach a Slam final. No one has done this before! Raducanu’s route to the final wasn’t nearly as brutal as Fernandez in terms of the calibre of players she faced. However she has navigated her draw with a ruthless efficiency. No sets dropped is a feat. I think Raducanu’s last four opponents to the final all played… well, not very well! Rogers made so many errors in the fourth round. Bencic looked so tight in their quarter-final. I didn’t see the semi-final with Sakkari but I don’t think I need to after listening to Sakkari’s press conference after the match. Yes, they didn’t play well, but I think a lot of that is down to what Raducanu was doing from her side of the net.
I think the surprise factor has certainly helped Raducanu in that she’s still very much an unknown quantity and few have seen her play. And perhaps the pressure on her opponents which no one has seemingly been able to handle. No one wants to lose to an 18 year old. I still remember Osaka made a comment along these lines after losing to Coco Gauff at last year’s Australian Open.
The most impressive aspect of Raducanu’s game has been her composure. As her opponents have struggled to find their games, Raducanu has been absolutely relentless in closing out these matches and coming through with flying colours in the key moments. The Brit was, like Fernandez, bold, taking the ball early and with full belief in her shots. I guess the strength in her game is that she doesn’t appear to have an obvious weakness to target. Well, her opponents didn’t manage to find it!
A Fernandez-Raducanu final was a wild possibility back at the start of the second week. As the contenders tumbled, the wild possibility became a rather fitting ending to a bonkers US Open. And what a final it was. I was in awe of these two because it was a great match and in my opinion, the best Slam final of 2021 in terms of quality. There was a wonderful ebb-and-flow to the match.
A few takeaways from the final. I thought Raducanu’s serve was more effective and the serve out wide into Fernandez’s backhand set up the one-two punch on many occasions. Raducanu’s backhand has appeared to be the stronger wing but it was the forehand that really impressed in this match. Raducanu was taking the ball early, as she has done all tournament, and she handled everything that Fernandez threw at her. Notably her timing on the high balls that Fernandez generated was impeccable.
Of course there had to be some drama at the end! In what would be the final game, Raducanu slid out wide to retrieve a cracking Fernandez shot and cut her leg on the court surface. Raducanu had to take a medical time-out serving for the Championship at *30-40. Fernandez appeared to argue the case with the supervisor. Just a word on this in case anyone questions this. The timing was unfortunate but i’m sure it’s a rule that a player cannot continue while bleeding. There’s no way Raducanu could have carried on it with untreated. Raducanu said in her press conference that she wanted to continue and didn’t want to halt momentum. Fernandez said afterwards that she didn’t really know what was happening on Emma’s side and that she got caught up in the heat in the moment.
Raducanu saved two break points and eventually served out the win with an ace. AN ACE!!! Just unbelievable. Unbelievable. I keep repeating over and over again to anyone who will listen to me that this is unbelievable. 10 wins in a row, didn’t drop more than five games in any of the sets she played. The composure to close out your first Slam with so little experience on the tour. Unprecedented. A truly historic moment. Nailed on for SPOTY which is pretty amazing in an Olympic year.
Raducanu has been all over the news in the UK these past few days and I think the attention will continue to multiply. There was even a statement from the Queen who congratulated Emma after the win 😂. Amazon Prime have the rights to the US Open in the UK. The match ended up on free-to-air as Channel 4 agreed a deal with Amazon Prime to stream their coverage. Unprecedented again!
It’s been a crazy, crazy time for Emma. It makes me rather wary to be honest considering the time we live in with social media. I hope that she has a strong support network around to handle all the attention. It’s overwhelming just thinking about it.
A word for Fernandez who had a remarkable run and has so much to be proud of. Sorry. More superlatives 😂. Loved her speech at the end and very brave to address 9/11 and she spoke beautifully. I’m fascinated, fascinated beyond fascinated, to see how Leylah and Emma can build on this tournament. I think it’s going to be very tough with so many more eyes focused on their future matches. I hope everyone gives them time and space. I will try my best not to go overboard on the hype train.
Finally, what a Slam. This will live long in the memory. I’ll be watching back all the matches that I missed over the next week as there were so many contenders for match of the year.
Emma Raducanu is the 2021 US Open champion. Nah it still hasn’t sunk in and I don’t think it will for a while…