How Radukanu and Fernandez suddenly created stardom and deep connections

We adapt quickly. It is part of the human spirit, whether we are teenage tennis stars or the people who stand in line to watch them at the biggest tennis stadium in the world.

Two weeks ago, most of us had never heard of Leylah Fernandez Or Emma Radukanu. Fernandez had never progressed beyond the third round in a major tournament and has struggled to find his best form in recent weeks. Radukanu Only joined the tour this summer and had to make it through an Off-Broadway qualifying tournament to secure a spot. US Open.

But by Saturday, when Fernandez, 19, and Radukanu, 18, took to court for one of the most unexpected Grand Slam finals ever, we already had a connection.

She bravely worked through the women’s draw during this particular US Open, which was filled with dialogue between players and the public after all the distance of the past year and a half.

until Saturday, who were chasing The finalists’ unexpected advances were already known for their strengths, their multicultural backgrounds, and even their quirks: Fernandez’s jig points at Radukanu’s own fingers, before moving on to serve behind the baseline. The habit of blowing in between, such as cooling a very hot hand.

But what was most shocking on Saturday was how quickly the two unseeded players adjusted to the grand occasion, calmly giving thoughtful prematch television interviews, moving from Billie Jean King’s quote on the tunnel wall, Joe says that “pressure is a privilege,” and then walk past King as they emerge on the sunny afternoon for the biggest opportunity of their short career.

It was all new, but you wouldn’t know it when the ball was in play, as both attacked their groundstrokes and tried their best to capture the opportunity even after spending two full days thinking about what to do. tried. Once he had won his semi-final.

After the introduction, Fernandez ripped off a backhand crosscourt winner at the starting point. Radukanu later won the opening game by stopping a backhand winner of his own on serve.

Grand Slam finals, even with more experienced players, can very quickly become one-way traffic. Tennis is a game of speed, and the best-of-three-sets format used by women gives less time to turn the tide than the best-of-five format used by men.

But both Radukanu and Fernandez firmly expanded the rallies with their pace and defensive prowess, deftly sending the lab high into the atmosphere when cornered. But impressively, he scored points with authority when he had a place to go for the winners.

His style is opposite in some ways. Left-handed Fernandez uses more spin and enjoys deploying the drop shot. Her technique is more artistic than textbook, with her hands often far from the grip on the two-handed backhand as she improvises on the fly. Right-handed Radukanu favors more direct power and has superb fundamentals that allow him to control the ball while still swinging ruthlessly. He has the ability to smooth out tricky shots and run around his backhand in a flash and rip an inside forehand that Roger Federer can relate to.

But Fernandez and Radukanu are very contemporary tennis talents, in their ability to maintain speed and consistency from a low body position, with their knees often touching the court as they counterpunch.

Some of his extended rallies on Saturday were spectacular as he exchanged backhand bolsters with nary a grunt, his sneakers screaming on the hardcourt as they each focused on becoming US Open champions.

Only Radukanu would get that great satisfaction, and although a score of 6-4, 6-3 would appear largely one-sided in the history books, whoever looked Turns out the match was tougher than that.

“These two young girls are a gift to tennis, an ultimate gift,” Andy Roddick, 2003 US Open men’s champion, written in the post on Twitter.

Radukanu will have no dearth of attention in the country and abroad for his success. A good student in the class, she apparently studies very fast even on a tennis court. But women’s tennis is a wide open world these days: Fourteen players have won their first Grand Slam singles title since 2015.

More big trophies are no guarantee, no matter how great Radukanu’s run in New York is. But she seems wiser beyond her years and not entirely of her generation: “I still haven’t checked my phone,” she said Saturday night.

Money, unlike trophies, certainly awaits. Radukanu hails from the UK, a major market, and is telegenic with global appeal as the well-spoken daughter of parents with roots in Romania and China. Plus, her agent is Max Eisenbud, who at age 17 helped turn Maria Sharapova’s unexpected Wimbledon victory into gold, and now has an even more unexpected success story to work with.

Radukanu finished her high-school exams shortly before Wimbledon, where she reached the fourth round in her Grand Slam debut and tasted “emmamania” only to struggle with her breath and nerves and from mid-match against Ajla Tomljanovic. received to retire.

I asked Radukanu if she saw her ability to come back from that setback so quickly as a victory. “I think the biggest win for me is that I managed to think of absolutely nothing other than my game plan,” she said. “I just completely zoned out and focused on my craft.”

Roddick was right to shine a light on both the players on Saturday. Fernandez is not yet a Grand Slam champion, but he is a world-class fighter who moves between points with the determination of anyone in his way to break the bar dispute.

He and his family have sacrificed much for their tennis careers, and after losing the first set back and forth, Fernandez still had every reason to believe in his chances – all his success with the top players at Flushing Meadows. Looking at the fight. She upset former No. 1 Angelique Kerber in the form of a resurgence alongside three top five-ranked players – Naomi Osaka, Elina Svitolina and Aryna Sabalenka.

Fernández had defeated them all in three sets, so when Radukanu took a 5–2 lead in the second set but was unable to convert his first two match points on Fernández’s serve, Fernández smiled as he said something She knows something that no one has ever doubted.

Why shouldn’t he have believed in another comeback? But when he got a break point in the next game, he had to wait to play it, as Radukanu, who had bruised his left knee while slipping for a shot, was bleeding at the time of the injury and The wound was bandaged.

The pause was within the rules, but in this thinker’s ups and downs game, it could have made a difference. Radukanu said that he is also worried about losing his rhythm. But it was Fernandez who expressed The officers resented the long pause and then pushed a forehand long. Radukanu then saved the second break point with a leaping tap overhead.

She had returned to the deuce with the noise of Arthur Ashe Stadium and probably wide awareness across most of Britain, as the match was broadcast in prime time in Radukanu’s home country.

This time, she didn’t budge, with Fernandez surprising Tee with a fine serve that led her to the rally and fetch her a third match point.

She considered her options, tossed the ball high and hit an ace to become the first qualifier in tennis’ long history to win a Grand Slam singles title. He did not lose a single set in 10 matches.

“I never thought I’d see it, so I’m in shock,” said King, who watched from the stand as Radukanu dropped his racket and fell on the court, his hands covering his face.

It was a transformative moment that brought both the players to tears. But what seemed remarkable when the match ended was what seemed remarkable as it began: the poise and adaptability of both the young finalists.

And while Fernandez, his eyes still red, seemed to have answered his last question at the awards ceremony, he had the presence of mind. Ask for the microphone once again and say what he had planned for this bittersweet Saturday, the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

“I know this day was especially hard for New York and everyone around us,” she said. “I hope I can be as strong and resilient as New York has been over the past 20 years.”

David Waldstein Contributed reporting.

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