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US Open final: Emma Raducanu faces Leylah Fernandez in bid for first major title in New York

The British teenager and her Canadian opponent will take to court at 9pm on Saturday evening in New York; the 18-year-old and her 19-year-old opponent are both first-time major finalists and have played outstanding tennis to reach this Grand Slam decider

Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez

Britain's Emma Raducanu will take on fellow teenager Leylah Fernandez in the 2021 US Open Final on Saturday night, in a bid to become the first qualifier to win a major.

Raducanu, who originally had flights booked to return home after qualifying, has stunned the field at this year's US Open and has not dropped a set en route to her first major final.

The five games that she dropped against Mariam Bolkvadze in the second round of qualifying is the most she has conceded in a set so far at Flushing Meadows.

The 18-year-old is the first qualifier in the history of the sport to reach a major final. Wildcards have won majors before but never - in either the men's or women's game - has a qualifier made it this far.

The British teenager has not only created history in the sport that she loves, but she's done it in style too. In the words of tennis commentator and analyst Barry Cowan, Raducanu has got "a certain star quality and game".

"This is not someone who is just having a dream two weeks and is a one-hit wonder, absolutely not," Cowan added, when speaking to Sky Sports News.

"Anyone that watches tennis knows that this is someone who is the real deal; she has the full package.

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"Even when she's doing her interviews after matches, whether it's on court or during the press conferences, she's so composed. To be able to do that at 18-years-old, it's not normal!!"

Emma Raducanu - Route to the US Open Final

First round of qualifying Bibiane Schoofs 6-1 6-2
Second round of qualifying Mariam Bolkvadze 6-3 7-5
Third round of qualifying Mayar Sherif 6-1 6-4
First round Stefanie Voegele 6-2 6-3
Second round Zhang Shuai 6-2 6-4
Third round Sara Sorribes Tormo 6-0 6-1
Fourth round Shelby Rogers 6-2 6-1
Quarter-final Belinda Bencic 6-3 6-4
Semi-final Maria Sakkari 6-1 6-4
Emma Raducanu
Image: Raducanu the first British woman to reach a major final in 44 years

"It means a lot to be here in this situation. I wanted obviously to be playing Grand Slams, but I didn't know how soon that would be", Raducanu said after her semi-final win over the world No 18 Maria Sakkari.

"Here in the US Open I wasn't really sure how my level was going to be. In a way, my tennis level has surprised me, in the way that I've managed to step up against some of the best players in the world.

"I personally think inside, I knew I had some sort of level that was similar to these girls, but I didn't know if I was able to maintain it over a set or over two sets. To be able to do it and play the best players in the world and beat them, I honestly can't believe it.

"It's been extremely difficult because they always fight, they have so much experience which they use," she added.

"I'm just so, so proud to have come through very tough moments in all of my matches."

Leylah Fernandez - Route to the US Open Final

First round Ana Konjuh 7-6 (7-3) 6-2
Second round Kaia Kanepi 7-5 7-5
Third round Naomi Osaka 5-7 7-6 (7-2) 6-4
Fourth round Angelique Kerber 4-6 7-6 (7-5) 6-2
Quarter-final Elina Svitolina 6-3 3-6 7-6 (7-5)
Semi-final Aryna Sabalenka 7-6 (7-3) 4-6 6-4
Leylah Fernandez, of Canada, reacts after defeating Aryna Sabalenka,of Belarus, during the semifinals of the US Open tennis championships, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Image: Fernandez has produced three victories over top-five players in a fortnight

Further tough moments are likely to come for Raducanu against 19-year-old Fernandez. Yes, her opponent is a fellow first-time major finalist, however, the Canadian is battle hardened following a tough draw.

Fernandez, who before the semi-finals had been playing on opposite days to Raducanu, has taken out a wealth of seeded players over the course of the last two weeks.

Aryna Sabalenka, Elina Svitolina, Angelique Kerber and Naomi Osaka have all fallen to the 19-year-old, who has not been fazed by opponents in the upper echelons of the sport.

"I'm just having fun and I'm trying to produce something for the crowd to enjoy," she said, after beating the second seed Sabalenka 7-6 (7-3) 4-6 6-4.

"I'm glad that whatever I'm doing on court, the fans are loving it and I'm loving it, too. We'll say it's magical."

Fernandez, who is coached by her father Jorge, will be the first left-handed opponent that Raducanu has faced in the main draw in New York, which changes the dynamic, notably from the back of the court and in terms of her serve.

Her forehand is a shot that was hailed following her three-set victory over Kerber in the fourth round and versus Sabalenka, she showed her ability to cope with a power game and prey on any unwelcome nerves that her opponent has.

One incredibly intriguing element about this final is the similarity between the experience levels of both finalists, as well as their journeys at Flushing Meadows so far.

Both have been on a wave of momentum and have enjoyed runs that have surpassed all expectations prior to the tournament. They have each been facing opponents that they have never encountered before, and now one will become a major champion.

To date, Raducanu and Fernandez have both been able to handle the big occasions and the big moments; enormous pressure has been there, but a grand slam final takes it up a level - or five!

Raducanu's resilience has been one of her standout features, alongside the weight of her groundstrokes, her service accuracy and ability to really attack her opponents' serves. Over the course of this major, Raducanu has already established herself as one of the best returners in the women's game.

Right now, I'm just thinking of the game plan and how to execute. That's what's landed me in this situation. It hasn't been focusing on who's expected to win this match or that one. I think it's just taking care of the day. That's what I'm doing quite well at the moment.
Emma Raducanu

The level of belief that Raducanu has illustrated throughout qualifying and in the main draw, is something that's been matched by Fernandez.

Following her 5-7 7-6 (7-2) 6-4 victory over Osaka, she spoke openly about how confident she feels going into a match.

"From the very beginning, right before the match, I knew I was able to win," she said, despite Osaka being a four-time Grand Slam winner and world No 3.

"From a very young age, I knew I was able to beat anyone, anyone who is in front of me.

"Even playing different sports, I was always that competitive, saying I'm going to win against them, I'm going to win against my dad in soccer, even though that's, like, impossible.

"I've always had that belief. I've always tried to use that in every match that I go on."

A teacher told me to stop playing tennis; you'll never make it, just focus on school. I’m just glad that she told me that because every day I have that phrase in my head, saying that I’m going to keep going, I’m going to push through and I’m going to prove to her that everything I’ve dreamed of I’m going to achieve.
Leylah Fernandez

Raducanu and Fernandez have faced each other before; back in 2018, they duelled in the second round of the Junior competition at the Wimbledon Championships.

On that occasion, the British player came out on top 6-2 6-4. She carried on into the quarter-finals before losing 6-0 6-1 to Iga Swiatek, who won the title that year.

There's no doubt that both teenagers are already vastly different players to the ones they were three years' ago, and now it's going to be about which can stay in the moment the best.

Will it be Raducanu or will it be Fernandez that's able to continue with the same routines and remain in the zone? Which player will be able to block out the fact that one victory will bring them a first Grand Slam title of their career?

Big occasions can be wonderful things, but they can also do funny things to athletes, just ask some of the women who have fallen to Raducanu and Fernandez over the past two weeks.

To this point, neither has struggled with the weight of pressure that's been on them. Round after round, the stakes have increased and the hope now, is that both are able to unleash their games and play with freedom of youth in the heat of a first Grand Slam final.

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