Battle of the teens

"The records made by these teen tennis sensations are for the ages."



In the end, Britain’s Emma Raducano won over Fil-Canadian Leylah Fernandez in two sets, 6-4, 6-3, to take the US Open Championship in the Arthur Ashe stadium in New York in what was billed as the second ever “ Battle of the Teens” finals since the much touted match between Selena Williams and Martina Hingis which the former won in 1997.

It was a kind of fairy tale ending for the 18-year-old Emma who, like Leylah who was born in Quebec to an Ecuadoran father and a Filipina mother, was also born in Canada (Toronto) to immigrant parents, Ian from Romania and Renee from China, both of whom are now working in the UK financial sector. Apparently, both families are also into sports so Emma and Leylah got into tennis at a very young age, competed for their respective countries in various international competitions, including the just concluded Olympics while getting honed in professional tennis just about three or four years ago. Both went into the game as unseeded players, Emma ranked at 150 and Leylah ranked at 73, making it another record in tennis history. As sports analysts noted “one unseeded making a majors final is already remarkable, two enters the realm of unbelievable.”

In addition, Emma was also the first qualifier to win a major title and joins Williams and Martina Sharapova in the elite ranks of the youngest US Open titlist. She was also the first British woman since Virginia Wade triumphed in Wimbledon in 1977 to win a major trophy. So hungry for a win were the British that even Queen Elizabeth went to Twitter to offer congratulations to Emma, along with other members of the royal family.

Indeed, the records made by these teen tennis sensations are for the ages and will surely make them even more of crowd favorites in the years to come. Leylah conquered four seeded players going into the finals – her victims included four-time Grand Slam winner and defending champion Naomi Osaka, second seeded Aryna Sabalenka, fifth seed Elina Svitolina and three-time Grand Slam winner Angelique Kerber. On the other hand, Emma’s march to the title was equally remarkable, not dropping a single set or even playing a tie-break, swatting aside more experienced opponents with the same ease as she hammered winners in 10 matches.

Such a showing going into the finals made the teens the toss of the tennis crowd not only in Flushing Meadows in New York but the world over. In fact, the sports pundits were unable to come out with their usual takes, making a number of hedges after reviewing the historical matchups of the finalists and checking on their plays during the entire tournament. In the end, the consensus was Leylah would be handicapped by her weak serves which turned out to be true. Emma managed to distance herself at 5-2 in the second set preying on Leylah’s service. But it took some time for Emma to conquer Leylah’s grit and fighting spirit as the latter evened up and even got to score another point before finally giving in to what the sports writers noted as the “icy cool disposition” of the eventual winner, Emma.

The charming teens' journey to the top have been the product of disciplined work outs, what Emma herself noted as “blood, sweat and tears.” In her case, after first playing tennis at five years old, she then moved to amateur competitions in England before making her maiden World Tennis Association (WTA) draw at the 2021 Nottingham Open where she gained entry as a wildcard.

In June, Raducanu made her main Grand Slam debut on a wildcard to the 2021 Wimbledon Championships where she advanced to the third round to become the youngest British player to do so since 2002. She then played at the Silicon Valley Classic, the first in the annual women’s US Open Series in August where she lost in the first round. Raring to go to the US Open Championship, she then had to go through the WTA 125 tournament event in Chicago to gain points to enter the tournament at Flushing Meadows. After gaining entry, she then proceeded to beat nine other players, half of whom seeded, to face Leylah in the finals. The rest, as they say, is now history.

Leylah’s is no less impressive. After gaining the finals in the Australian Girl’s Open Singles on January 25, 2019, she proceeded to dominate the French Open Girl’s Singles in June 2019 to become the first Canadian female winner of a junior Grand Slam Championship since 2012. Immediately thereafter, on July 21, 2019, Leylah won her first professional singles tennis title when she rallied to beat fellow Canadian Carson Branstine in the Gatineau Challenge and a second trophy in doubles teaming up with another Canadian, Rebecca Marino. From then on, Leylah proceeded to notch a number of matches at the Australian Open, the French Open, the Mexican open and finally the Monterrey Open- all in 2020. This year, she won the Monterrey Open, her first WTA trophy where she beat Victoria Golubic in the finals and without dropping a set in the entire tournament.

At the US Open, Leylah was some kind of a sensation defeating seeded players like Osaka in the third round, Kerber in the fourth round. Svitolina in the quarterfinals and Sabalenka, the second seed in the semi finals in the process becoming the first player born in 2002 to reach the finals. It was also only the third time in the US Open that an unseeded player defeated three of the top five seeds.

Having gained their places in tennis history it will come as no surprise if both Emma and Leylah will proceed to dominate the game at least in the coming decade in the same fashion that earlier favorites Williams, Sharapova, Hingis and Osaka, to name just four of the greats of that generation, did. They have come at such a time when the world is still reeling from a pandemic and the sports world is raring to go back to crowd packed days. They proved their worth as true-blue players and crowd favorites in Flushing Meadows that their grit, hard work and determination at such an early age should prove to be a great impetus for this generation of millennials to do their best in their respective vocations and advocacies to show the world that there remains life and hope in this pandemic incubated generation after all the gloom.   

To Emma and Leylah, our prayers and good wishes. Move on with dedication and discipline. May the Force be with you.

Topics: Emma Raducano , Leylah Fernandez , Tennis , US Open Championship

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