Global citizens, teen US Open finalists have fans all over
NEW YORK (AP) — Emma Raducanu first met Leylah Fernandez at a tournament for players 12 and under, around the time one of Fernandez’s teachers urged her to give up the tennis dream. They shared a passion for the game and a connection with Canada, where Fernandez was born. This helped to build a strong relationship. The teenagers may have more in common than they realize.
They will draw a crowd to the U.S. Open women’s final Saturday that will go beyond the stadium’s fans. “I think that the matchup is touching a lot young girls,” Jorge Fernandez (Leylah’s coach and father) said.
People will be watching in Asia: The 18-year-old Raducanu’s mother is from China and the 19-year-old Fernandez’s is Filipino Canadian.
And in Latin America, Jorge Fernandez comes from Ecuador.
And in Europe, Raducanu’s dad is from Romania.
And, of course in Canada: Fernandez was raised in Montreal, although she is now based in Florida. Raducanu, however, was born in Toronto. She still has a passport from Canada. Her family moved to England in her twenties.
These teenagers are not only great tennis players but they are also citizens of the globe.
“This is a great thing for tennis and the WTA,” Jorge Fernandez said during a Zoom interview in English, Spanish, and French.
Leylah Farandez was relatively unknown in Ecuador and the Philippines before she beat Naomi Osaka, the defending champion. Her family roots have been mentioned in the media, which has attracted a lot of attention.
Char abalos was one of the many fans who woke early Friday morning in Manila to see Fernandez defeat No. 2 Aryna Sabahlenka in the semifinal match, which took place in New York on Thursday night.
“She is calm and cheerful on the court,” Abalos stated, noting that tennis players often frown. “Leylah is so calm, just making sure that the crowd is enjoying.”
The player who emerges Saturday as a new face of tennis will be a lot like last year’s U.S. Open champion. Osaka was born to a Japanese mother, and a Haitian father. Her family moved to New York when Osaka was young.
Tennis sent this year’s finalists to the move. In Fernandez’s instance, her mother moved from Japan to California to support her family. Leylah and her dad stayed in Canada to train.
Now they live in Florida together, Jorge Fernandez assisting from far away via phone calls. He noticed that he was receiving encouragement messages from Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso , and Canadian Prime Minster Justin Trudeau ..
Leylah Farandez did not always have this support.
She recalls being in fifth or sixth grade when she was encouraged to pay more attention on the blackboard and to stop using her backhand so much.
“I can recall one teacher who was very funny at the time. But now, I find it hilarious,” Fernandez said. “She told me to stop playing tennis, ‘You will never make it and just focus on school.'”
Instead, her family dug in more, with Jorge Fernandez remembering his daughter winning a tournament at 12 that featured players who were 16. She was ready to play in the U.S. Open draw, which featured three of the top five players.
She beat all three of them, including Osaka. Her opponent is Raducanu who was not even in the top 350 just a few months back. She was not guaranteed to make it to the U.S. Open, and she had to play through the qualifying rounds to get into the main draw.
She was the first qualifier to reach the Grand Slam final. Raducanu defeated Fernandez at the junior Wimbledon tournament 2018,, but their skills and fan base have only grown.
” “We’ve both come a long way in our games as well as in our friendship,” Raducanu stated. “I’m sure it’s going to be extremely different to when we last encountered each other.”
This meeting is the first Grand Slam final between teenagers since the 1999 U.S. Open, when Serena Williams, 17, beat Martina Hingis, 18.
Fernandez will be trying to give Canada its second 19-year-old champion in three years, after Bianca Andreescu beat Williams to win the 2019 title.
If that match felt like a shifting of the guard in women’s tennis, then Saturday’s final feels like another sped up version. It pits players born in 2002..
Raducanu reminisces watching the 2011 French Open final. This was when Li Na became Asia’s first Grand Slam singles champion in a match that was viewed by more 115 millions in China.
“My Chinese mother instilled discipline and hard work from a young age. “I think for me, when I was younger, I would take a lot of inspiration from Li Na, even now, just the way she was such a fierce competitor.”
Jorge Fernandez sees his wife’s influence providing the same fighting spirit on his daughter’s game.
“She has Filipino blood in her,” Fernandez said. “It’s beautiful.”
Their pursuit of tennis success from opposite sides of the Atlantic made it difficult for Fernandez and Raducanu to keep up the relationship that started when they bonded over their Canadian roots during a tournament in Florida.
Raducanu stated that they always greet each other. They can say hello in the largest stadium of the sport by standing side-by-side on Saturday.
” I’m sure there’ll be a great atmosphere for us both,” Raducanu stated.
The world will be watching.
Associated Press writer Kiko Rosario in Manila, Philippines contributed to this report.
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