Leylah Fernandez Beats Aryna Sabalenka to Advance to U.S. Open Final

Leylah Fernandez Beats Aryna Sabalenka to Advance to U.S. Open Final

September 10, 2021

Leylah Fernandez, the Canadian teen sensation, cruised into the finals of the U.S. Open Thursday night, knocking off Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus with an upset that might have been surprising had she not been doing this for the better part of a week.

Fernandez, ranked 73rd, notched her fourth consecutive win over one of the world’s top-20 players. Her stunning run has included wins over the second, third, fifth and 16th seeded players in the tournament. She beat Naomi Osaka and Angelique Kerber, the winners of a combined seven Grand Slam singles titles, then knocked off Elina Svitolina, who is considered one of the best players never to have won a Grand Slam.

Then came Sabalenka, one of the world’s biggest hitters and its second-ranked player. At 23, she appeared poised this year to take the next step in her development. She has never made a Grand Slam final but lost in the semifinals at Wimbledon and backed that up with another trip to the final four at the U.S. Open.

In Fernandez, though, Sabalenka ran into a player who seems to have convinced herself that she cannot be beaten, that if she can just keep getting the ball back over the net with her brand of power and spin and guile, somehow the match will break her way.

It took more than two hours for that moment to come, when she finished off a 7-6 (3), 4-6, 6-4 win.

“I don’t know how I did that,” Fernandez said, when asked how she had pulled it off during her on-court interview.

Fernandez came out jittery, lost her serve and was down 3-0 in the first set. Before long though, she had settled down and proved to be the perfect foil for Sabalenka’s high-octane game that leaves little margin for error. When she doesn’t connect, she beats balls into the bottom half of the net or watches them sail five and six feet beyond the baseline, then flails her arms in frustration.

There was plenty of that on Thursday evening at Arthur Ashe Stadium. Sabalenka seemed to be making steady progress with a 4-2 lead in the first set, but then made a series of errors to let Fernandez back into the set, including a double fault on game point.

At the crucial moment of the first-set tiebreaker, with Fernandez holding a 4-3 lead, Sabalenka missed badly on an easy overhead, double-faulted, then bounced a Fernandez serve on set point into the net.

The second set looked like it was going to be a near carbon copy of the first. An early break for Sabalenka, then sloppiness to let Fernandez back into the frame. But then Fernandez cracked in the ninth game, giving Sabalenka a chance to serve out the set. She whirled her arms, begging for some support from the pro-Fernandez crowd.

On to the third set they went, trading service games into midway point, when Fernandez, holding a 3-2 lead, let Sabalenka hit herself into trouble, then blocked one of Sabalenka’s hardest serves of the night and watched Sabalenka’s shot float long. But Fernandez struggled with the prosperity, letting Sabalenka break her right back, and a game later knot the score at 4-4.

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