Emma Raducanu met Leylah Fernández at a tournament for players 12 and under. At that time, a teacher from Fernández had suggested that he abandon his dreams of being a tennis player.
They both share their passion for the sport and a connection to Canada, where they were both born, although Raducanu plays British. This helped build a relationship quickly.
The two teens have a lot in common, perhaps more than they realize.
For the US Open final, they will attract an audience that will extend far beyond Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“I just think about the duel and what we are seeing – those two tennis players are inspiring a lot of girls,” said Jorge Fernández, Leylah’s father and coach.
There will be people watching the game in Asia. Raducanu’s mother was born in China, and Fernández’s is Filipino-Canadian. Also in Latin America: Jorge Fernández is originally from Ecuador. And of course in Europe, because Raducanu’s father is from Romania.
And of course in Canada. Fernández was born in Montreal (although he has been living in Florida for several years). Raducanu is originally from Toronto and still has a Toronto passport, although her family moved to England when she was 2 years old.
Beyond being two magnificent tennis players, these young women are citizens of the world.
“This can only be good for tennis and for the WTA,” Jorge Fernández said on Friday, during a video conference in which he spoke English and Spanish.
Leylah Fernández was relatively unknown in the Philippines and Ecuador before defeating Naomi Osaka, the defending champion, in the third round. Since then, he has drawn attention in both countries, where his family roots are mentioned.
Tennis made this year’s finalists travel even more. In Fernández’s case, his mother moved to California to support the family, while his father stayed in Canada to train.
They now live together in Florida, where Jorge Fernández has stayed during the tournament, giving his daughter advice over the phone.
Of course, Jorge Fernández has noticed the messages of support for his daughter, which in recent days included tweets from Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Leylah Fernández did not always have such support
She remembers being in fifth or sixth grade when someone suggested that she stop paying so much attention to her backhand shot and focus better on what was written on the classroom blackboard.
“I remember a teacher, who was actually very funny. At that time it wasn’t, but now I’m laughing, ”he commented. “He told me to stop playing tennis. ‘You will never make it, better focus on school,’ he told me. “
Instead, her family sought to push her further. Jorge Fernández remembers that his daughter won a tournament at the age of 12 in which 16-year-old tennis players participated. Perhaps this prepared her for a part of the US Open table in which there were three players ranked among the best five in the world.
He beat them all in three sets, including Osaka. Now, his rival will be Raducanu, who was not even among the top 350 in the ranking a few months ago.
In fact, he wasn’t even guaranteed a spot at the US Open a few weeks ago. He had to earn his ticket in the qualifying rounds.
Never before has a tennis player from those instances reached the final of a Grand Slam competition. In 2018, within the Wimbledon youth category, Raducanu beat Fernández.
Since then, the two of them have gained much more talent… and followers.
“Obviously, since then, we have both advanced a lot in our game and as people,” said Raducanu. “I’m sure this will be extremely different from our previous duel.”
The last time two teenagers had collided in a Grand Slam final was at the 1999 US Open. On that occasion, 17-year-old Serena Williams defeated 18-year-old Martina Hingis.
Fernandez will look to give Canada its second 19-year champion in three seasons. Bianca Anreescu defeated Williams to win the title in 2019.
If that duel seemed to mark a changing of the guard in women’s tennis, Saturday’s final looks like the next step. The two rivals were born in 2002, barely a month apart.
Raducanu still remembers watching the 2011 French Open final, when China’s Li Na became the first Asian tennis player to win a singles title at a major tournament.
That duel was watched by more than 115 million people in China.
“I think that, for me, having a Chinese mom, she was definitely a role model for me, hard working and disciplined at a young age,” Raducanu said. “I think for me, when I was young, there was a lot of inspiration seeing Li Na. Even now I love the fierce way he competed. “
Jorge Fernández perceives that the influence of his wife contributed that same combativeness in his daughter’s tennis. “He has Filipino blood,” he stressed. “Is beautiful”.(AP)