Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez offer a glimpse into an exciting future for women’s tennis

With Serena Williams retiring due to fitness issues – even before a ball was hit – and Naomi Osaka and Ash Barty sent off in the third round, fears of a loss of interest in the singles draw. women’s at this year’s US Open was palpable.

But no one could have predicted that it would be up to two teenage girls – ranked 150th and 73rd in the world – to create the kind of frenzied hype in women’s tennis that the sport has seen with their fascinating journeys to Saturday’s final. .

Britain’s Emma Raducanu and Canada’s Leylah Fernandez – born two months apart in 2002 – took the US Open by storm with their youthful exuberance and fearless playing style.

The appreciation from fans around the world was reflected in the mood of the crowd of 23,000 during Saturday’s title clash at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“I have never heard a crowd in Grand Slam tennis be so loud, so grateful for the players and players who respond,” said Mats Wilander, seven-time major champion and Eurosport tennis expert.

“It was an epic US Open. It was a big comeback from the US Open, it was just two amazing weeks. “

While 18-year-old Raducanu took home the ultimate prize to become the first qualifier to win a Grand Slam title, women’s tennis was also a winner.

Williams, who turns 40 this month, has been one of the biggest draws at Flushing Meadows for the past two decades and his removal has likely sent a chill down on organizers in hopes of enjoying the glory of ” have a crowd at full capacity at a Grand Slam event for the first time since the COVID-19 outbreak.

When Fernandez defeated two-time US Open champion Osaka in the third round, the mood cooled further as the Japanese star, who was struggling with mental health issues, left the Major hard, saying that she wasn’t sure when she would compete again.

The next day, the world number. 1 Barty, who won Wimbledon in July, was also ousted.

With Novak Djokovic staying on track to become the first man in 52 years to win all four major titles in a calendar year, women’s competition in New York was in danger of turning into an undercard.

But Raducanu and Fernandez made sure it didn’t, keeping global audiences enthralled with their scintillating races in relative obscurity.

Emma Raducanu became the first qualifier to win a Grand Slam title with her victory at the US Open in New York on Saturday.  |  UNITED STATES TODAY / VIA REUTERS
Emma Raducanu became the first qualifier to win a Grand Slam title with her victory at the US Open in New York on Saturday. | UNITED STATES TODAY / VIA REUTERS

Eleven weeks ago, the still smiling Raducanu had just finished her studies when she made her Grand Slam debut at Wimbledon as the 338th wildcard. The US Open was only his fourth round-level tournament.

Fernandez made the main draw of major tournaments for the first time last year and placed 73rd at the start of the US Open.

But what would have seemed like an outrageous title clash came true on Saturday with the first open-era Grand Slam final between two unranked players.

While men’s tennis has crowned only one new Grand Slam winner outside of the trio of Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and Djokovic over the past five years, there have been 14 different champions in women’s tennis since the start. of the 2017 season.

The depth and unpredictability of women’s tennis was a cause for celebration.

Bianca Andreescu and Iga Swiatek were both 19 when they won the US Open 2019 and French Open 2020 respectively, while Osaka and Sofia Kenin were also among the young female champions.

Add to that 17-year-old American Coco Gauff, who has already recorded breathtaking victories in her fledgling career, and women’s tennis sees an exciting future.

“Emma and Leylah are two of the very talented group of young WTA Tour prospects and are leading what is sure to be an incredible era for WTA Tennis,” Steve Simon, WTA chief executive officer, told Reuters hours before the final Saturday.

“The final looks to be one of the most exciting sporting events of the year as millions of tennis fans around the world will be inspired by these two incredible young female athletes as they continue to experience great joy from competing in one of sports’ biggest stages while embodying the true spirit of what it means to be a WTA player, both on and off the field.

“A sports league couldn’t ask for two better role models.”

While pundits are cautious about the prospects of Raducanu or Fernandez dominating the sport like Williams did after winning their first slam in New York in 1999, the duo have already established their star power and can expect it to be. as sponsors and brands start to align.

Data and analytics firm GlobalData predicted Raducanu could make millions after becoming the first British woman to win a major tournament since Virginia Wade’s triumph at Wimbledon in 1977.

Their global profile is also expected to be a major draw and provide fertile ground for new tennis interests and fans for the WTA.

Leylah Fernandez was ranked No. 1. 73 at the start of the US Open.  |  UNITED STATES TODAY / VIA REUTERS
Leylah Fernandez was ranked No. 1. 73 at the start of the US Open. | UNITED STATES TODAY / VIA REUTERS

Jorge Fernandez, the 19-year-old Canadian’s father, is from Ecuador while Raducanu’s father is from Romania.

Raducanu’s mother is from China while Fernandez’s mother is of Filipino descent.

The British player could potentially tap into the huge Chinese market in the same way Osaka did in his native Japan.

Her recent comments about respecting China’s two-time major winner Li Na while growing up and her Mandarin post after Saturday’s win will surely make her more loved by fans in the Asian country.

Teens were a ‘fantastic’ advertisement for the sport in an attempt to strengthen tennis’ global footprint, Fernandez’s father said

“I’m glad they are reaching the Asian community. I think it’s a huge opportunity in women’s football just to be able to expand and have a new style, ”he said this week.

“These two ladies touch a lot of young girls. They affect a lot of young people.

“I’m getting ‘please pass this on to Leylah’ messages from little girls saying ‘you make us believe’. This can only be good for tennis and the WTA as a whole. “

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