PROFESSIONAL tennis may never see it again. Or just maybe it is a portent of things to come.

In the 2021 US Tennis Open women’s final, 18-year old British woman Emma Raducanu triumphed over 19-year old Canadian Leylah Fernandez, 6-4, 6-3.

The last time two teenagers contested a Grand Slam final was in the 1999 US Open, when a 17-year old Serena Williams beat an 18-year old Martina Hingis.

More remarkably, Raducanu became the first qualifier to win a Grand Slam in the process. It was just her second Grand Slam appearance. Over two weeks, she did not drop a set winning 20 consecutive in total.

Raducanu was also the first British woman to win a Grand Slam since Virginia Wade won Wimbledon in 1977. She is also the youngest to do so since Maria Sharapova beat Serena Williams in the 2004 Wimbledon Final.

Ranked 150 in the world pre-tournament, Raducanu will reach 23 in the WTA rankings and collected $3.4 million in the process.

“First of all, I really want to congratulate Leylah and her team, she played some incredible tennis and has beaten some of the top players in the world,” Raducanu said.

“The level was extremely high and I hope we play each other in many more tournaments – and hopefully finals.

“I think it shows that the future of women’s tennis and just the depth of the game right now is so great.”

Raducanu was born in Canada to Chinese and Romanian parents and migrated with her family to London aged two years old.

She has previously thanked her Chinese-born mother for instilling her with discipline and respect for others.

“I think for me, having a Chinese mum, she definitely instilled from a young age hard work, discipline,” the tennis prodigy said earlier in the tournament.

In a more personal interview with British Vogue, the teenager acknowledged the values learned from her Chinese cultural heritage for instilling her with confidence.

“I think the confidence comes from just inner belief,” she told the magazine.

“My mum comes from a Chinese background, they have very good self-belief. It’s not necessarily about telling everyone how good you are, but it’s about believing it within yourself. I really respect that about the culture.”

The teenager adding that her migrant parents can be hard to impress. Representative of a generation, it seems, with a familiar theme.

“They’re very tough to please and have high expectations … so that’s a big driving factor as to why I want to perform,” she said.

“I think they’ve done a really great job. [After Wimbledon] I was straight back to work. And I think that’s a result of many years of them just being super-focused, and not getting too high, but at the same time, not getting too low when the losses come.”

Fernandez at 19, was not far behind in her accomplishments.

In only her fifth grand slam event, she has beaten Naomi Osaka, Angelique Kerber, Elina Svitolina and Aryna Sabalenka, two grand slam winners and two players in the world’s top five, with flicks of that magical left wrist, with the New York crowd backing her at every turn.

As a child of about 10 or 11, Fernandez was told by a teacher that she should forget about wanting to be a professional tennis player and to concentrate on her studies instead.

Reflecting an emerging character trait of proving others wrong, her words acted as a stimulus for defiance.

“[It] was actually very funny – at the time it wasn’t, but now I’m laughing,” she said after her three-set semi-final win over Sabalenka. “She told me to ‘stop playing tennis, you will never make it, and just focus on school’. I’m just glad that she told me that because every day I have that phrase in my head saying that I’m going to keep going, I’m going to push through, and I’m going to prove to her everything that I’ve dreamed of – I’m going to achieve them.”

Born in Montreal to Jorge, a former footballer in Ecuador and Toronto-born Irene, herself the daughter of parents from the Philippines, Fernandez is based in Florida.

Like Raducanu, she is a child of immigrants and rightly proud of her heritage. A junior French Open champion in 2019, her star is on the rise. The Canadian former basketball star and current Brooklyn Nets coach Steve Nash was in her player box this week and she has been supported by Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, on social media.

In an interview with Canadian broadcaster TSN this week, her father explained what playing for Canada means to the family. “It means everything,” he said, in an emotional interview. “There’s a lot of talk in the news about immigrant people, and I understand nationalist sentiments, and I understand how we need to protect that, we have only so many resources, I understand that. I don’t want to get political. That’s not what I’m doing. What I’m telling you is we’re an immigrant family, and we had nothing.

“So, Canada opened up its doors, and if they wouldn’t, I wouldn’t have had the opportunities that I have. And I wouldn’t have been able to give them to my daughter. So, it means a lot.”

Like many of those before her, there is a story of hard work, commitment and overcoming adversity.

Fernandez’s journey thus far is no different while her father, who took up tennis coaching, has chosen to remain home largely on superstitious grounds, it has emerged.

Fernandez has been accompanied in New York by her mother, something she revealed was extra special for reasons which soon became obvious.

“My mom had to go to California for a few years to support my family and I in the tennis world,” she said at this US Open. “That few years has been definitely hard for me because I needed a mom, I needed someone to be there for me through the age of 10 to 13.

“Every time I saw her, it was like seeing a stranger but at the same time someone so familiar. I was just very lucky to have my mom here at this tournament cheering for me and having fun with me all this time. But we’ve gone through so many things together as a family. I’m just glad that right now everything’s going on our side.”

After congratulating Fernandez and her team on their run and thanking her own entourage and supporters, the victor said: “It was an incredibly difficult match but I thought the level was extremely high. I hope we play each other in many more tournaments and hopefully finals.”

She added of the final game: “Leylah is always going to play great tennis and always going to fight. That’s just the competitor she is and that’s why she’s here in the final. I knew that I’d have to dig deep and I fell somehow. I thought that would throw myself off balance because I would have to serve. I was just praying not to double fault, really. We got through, just staying in the moment, focusing on what I have to do, my process in the moment really helped in those tough times.”

Even a proud Queen Elizabeth gushed over Raducanu’s work ethic and achievements.

“It is a remarkable achievement at such a young age, and is a testament to your hard work and dedication. I have no doubt your outstanding performance, and that of your opponent Leylah Fernandez, will inspire the next generation of tennis players.

I send my warmest good wishes to you and your many supporters. ”

Tennis star Billie Jean King, who has 39 Grand Slam titles under her belt, complimented the maturity shown by Raducanu and Fernandez.

“What a terrific display of competition and maturity from two exceptional players,” the tennis veteran said in a message posted on Twitter.

“It is wonderful to see this generation living our dream. I can’t remember a #USOpen with better crowd support.”

The US Open has been a battle of the youngsters with Emma Raducanu virtually unknown at the start of that tournament – as was Fernandez.

The pair have known each other since juniors, first taking to the court in an under-12s competition.

The world of tennis has been given an unscheduled appetiser of what lies ahead between these two young women.

 

Image via sportingnews.com

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