New York, Sep 8 (IANS) Leylah Fernandez of Canada gave herself a perfect present a day after she turned 19, defeating No.5 seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(5) in a thrilling tie to secure a place in her first Grand Slam semifinal at the US Open.
Fernandez’s self-belief was on full display in a tough third set on Tuesday evening even as the tenacious Svitolina fought back from 2-5 down to force a deciding tiebreak, and therein came from 1-4 down to level at 5-5, but the Canadian teenager stood resolute. It was the first time she had won a third-set tiebreak at Tour level.
The result is Fernandez’s third career top-5 win, two of which have come at the US Open. She is the third Canadian to make the semifinals in Flushing Meadows following Carling Bassett-Seguso in 1984 and 2019 champion Bianca Andreescu, and she is also the youngest US Open semifinalist since an 18-year-old Maria Sharapova in 2005. She also avenges a loss to Svitolina in their only previous meeting, 6-4, 7-5 in the 2020 Monterrey quarterfinals.
Fernandez is now the youngest current player to have reached the last four of a major, wresting that title from 2019 French Open semifinalist Amanda Anisimova of the US. Qualifier Emma Raducanu of UK, 18, has the opportunity to seize the record later on Wednesday when she takes on No.11 seed Belinda Bencic of Switzerland.
This is just Fernandez’s third Tour-level semifinal, and first above 250 level. Previously, she had reached her maiden WTA final at Acapulco 2020, and captured her first title in Monterrey this March. Currently ranked world No.73, she will crack the Top 50 for the first time next Monday.
For Svitolina, the loss marks more Grand Slam frustration. Despite a much-improved performance at this stage — of her seven previous defeats at the quarterfinal stage or later of a major, six had been in straight sets — her record in the last eight of a Slam now drops to 2-6.
“Today’s match was definitely one of the hardest, not only tennis-wise but also mentally and emotionally,” Fernandez said, in her post-match press conference. “Svitolina is a great player, great fighter. I was glad I was able to fight in the first set. In the second set she upped her level and I unfortunately made a few mistakes on key moments.
“I’m glad I was able to recuperate for the third set. The tiebreak, too. A little bit lucky at 5-5, but I’ll take all the luck I can get. I was glad I was able to push through the finish line,” Fernandez told wtatennis.com.
“Honestly after my [first WTA singles title in February] in Monterrey, I was training well, playing well,” Fernandez added. “Just a few bad matches here and there. I always went back to work. Went back home to work harder, try to improve my game.
“I was glad that every match that I played, I was improving little by little. Today, or this whole few weeks, I was able to showcase all the sacrifice I’ve made the past year so that I can get to this point.”
“For today and this match, I was only thinking of trusting myself, trusting my game,” Fernandez said. “After every point, win or lose, I would always tell myself, trust my game, go for my shots, just see where the ball goes.”
Fernandez will take on No.2 seed Aryna Sabalenka, with a first Grand Slam final at stake.