Tennis: Smells like teen spirit as youngsters chase US Open nirvana

Jim SLATER, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Sep 08 2021 10:12 AM

Leylah Fernandez of Canada reacts after winning a point against Elina Svitolina of Ukraine (not pictured) on day nine of the 2021 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Geoff Burke, USA TODAY Sports/Reuters
Leylah Fernandez of Canada reacts after winning a point against Elina Svitolina of Ukraine (not pictured) on day nine of the 2021 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Geoff Burke, USA TODAY Sports/Reuters

NEW YORK -- Canadian left-hander Leylah Fernandez has led a youthful US Open charge by a group of teenagers whose time for Grand Slam glory might just have arrived.

Fernandez, who turned 19 on Monday, defeated Ukraine's fifth-seeded Elina Svitolina 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (7/5) to reach the US Open semi-finals after earlier shockers over defending champion Naomi Osaka and 16th seed Angelique Kerber.

Combined with last-eight runs by 18-year-old British qualifier Emma Raducanu and 55th-ranked Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz, the US Open is a coming out party for what could be the next generation of stars.

"I think we're all just super hungry to make a difference in the tennis world," Fernandez said. "I've known a few of them from the junior tours.

"We've always talked about and joked around that we're going to be on the big stage together. I'm just glad we're doing such great jobs and doing just that."

Alcaraz dispatched Greek third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas and Raducanu hasn't dropped a set after making her Slam debut with a fourth-round run at Wimbledon.

"We want to make a difference. We want to make an impact in tennis. This tournament just proves how well we're adapting to everything," Fernandez said.

"It's so fun to see all of us being so happy and having fun on the court. I think it just motivates us to do even more. We want to make something special out of this tournament."

Fernandez has done that already, seizing a global spotlight by ousting four-time Slam winner Osaka and holding it with two more upsets to put herself two wins from a shock title on the New York hardcourts.

"Well, the first few days it was definitely a little bit hard," Fernandez said. "I was very lucky to have doubles the next day to keep me grounded. Now I feel like I'm a little bit more used to it.

"I have a great team around me who helps me keeping my head a little bit level and just think about my next match, not think about all the good things that are happening to me."

The world number 73 had a chat and photo with Juan Martin del Potro, the 2009 US Open champion, and met tennis legend Billie Jean King.

"She told me to go out on court, have fun, and keep going for my shots. I just did that today. So that obviously worked," Fernandez said.

"It was awesome to see them, to meet them. They honestly inspired me to do well today."

- 'It's the maple syrup' -

Fernandez received a Twitter mention from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who noted the quarter-final run of Canada's Felix Auger-Aliassime. So what's the Canadian secret?

"I'd say it's the maple syrup," Fernandez said. "The Canadian maple syrup is pretty good."

Staying grounded, her first WTA title in March at Monterrey only spurred Fernandez to work even harder.

"I always went back to work. Went back home to work harder, try to improve my game," she said. "I was glad every match I played I was improving little by little.

"Today I was able to showcase all the sacrifice I've made the past year so I can get to this point."

Fernandez called her father/coach Jorge at home in Florida after the match.

"He honestly told me that I put him through hell and back with this match, but he's very happy for me," Fernandez said.

"He trusted in me and in my game that I was going to do great things in New York, that I was going to follow his game plan, that I'm going to figure all the solutions out from any problem that I encounter.

"I just trusted myself and I trusted in my game and in my fitness, that I've worked so hard the past few years I can pass through the finish line."

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