Leylah Annie Fernandez beats Aryna Sabalenka: US Open women’s semi-final – as it happened

By Bryan Armen Graham at Flushing Meadows
Leylah Annie Fernandez
Leylah Annie Fernandez reacts after winning the first set against Aryna Sabalenka during Thursday night’s US Open semi-final match. Photograph: Elise Amendola/AP

The match report from tonight’s matches is here:

We’ll have a match report of both semi-finals later on, but for now you can see who Leylah Annie Fernandez will play in the final with our liveblog of Emma Raducanu v Maria Sakkari. Follow it here:

Fernandez is asked about images of her younger sister crying with tears of joy when she won. “She never cries! I was very glad to make my sister cry,” she says with a chuckle.

Leylah Annie Fernandez is asked about her “magical run” to the final on ESPN. She says: “Magical, that’s a great word. I tried to be magic on court from a very young age ... putting a show on for everyone.”

She is asked what was going through mind in the closing stages of the semi-final. “To trust my game ... I just looked over at my box and they said everything is going to be OK. And it was.”

Fernandez wins 7-6 (3), 4-6, 6-4!

Fernandez breaks in 10th game of third set!

Leylah Annie Fernandez reacts after her victory
Leylah Annie Fernandez reacts after her victory. Photograph: Frank Franklin II/AP

Sabalenka makes an unforced error off her backhand followed by a double fault for love-30 and Fernandez is two points from the finish line. Huge swell of noise from the crowd between points. Now Sabalenka double-faults again for love-40! Three match points for Fernandez! And it’s over! Sabalenka goes long on a forehand and Fernandez is through to the final!


Third set: Fernandez 7-6, 4-6, 5-4 Sabalenka* (*denotes next server)

Fernandez races out to 40-love on her serve as the crowd noise builds with each successive point, then mixes in only her second double fault of the night. Facing game point, Sabalenka overcooks a forehand return. Now the pressure swings back to the world No 2, who will serve to stay in the tournament after the change of ends!

Third set: *Fernandez 7-6, 4-6, 4-4 Sabalenka (*denotes next server)

Sabalenka opens with an ace and a service winner but Fernandez rattles off two quick points for 30-all to send the crowd into a frenzy. From there Sabalenka holds with a backhand winner followed by a Fernandez error to consolidate the break for 4-all.

Sabalenka breaks in seventh game of third set!

Third set: Fernandez 7-6, 4-6, 4-3 Sabalenka* (*denotes next server)

The crowd is still going mad and Fernandez is serving right through it before they’ve settled. Sabalenka hits a drop-shot winner on the first point before Fernandez chips in back-to-back unforced errors to go love-40 and triple break point down. Fernandez saves the first with a drop-shot winner (in response to a Sabalenka drop shot), then the second when Sabalenka goes wide with a backhand. Then Sabalenka badly frames a forehand return and Fernandez has gotten it back to deuce from love-40 down. Wow! That’s 48 unforced errors for Sabalenka compared to 42 winners. Sabalenka then cracks another forehand winner to earn a fourth break-point look and this time she converts it with a forehand winner early in the point. Put the champagne on ice: We’re back on serve in the third!

Aryna Sabalenka
Aryna Sabalenka reacts during Thursday’s match against Leylah Annie Fernandez. Photograph: Sarah Stier/Getty Images


Fernandez breaks in sixth game of third set!

Third set: *Fernandez 7-6, 4-6, 4-2 Sabalenka (*denotes next server)

The Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd buzzes as Sabalenka double-faults for deuce from 40-15 on her serve. Sabalenka then sends a backhand wide to go break point down as Fernandez pumps her fists amid the hysterical crowd. Sabalenka saves it emphatically with a 113mph service winner for deuce, but follows with a backhand unforced error to gift Fernandez a second break-point chance. And this time Fernandez converts when Sabalenka goes long with a backhand again early in a rally! Fernandez noses ahead and will serve at 4-2 in the deciding set!


Third set: Fernandez 7-6, 4-6, 3-2 Sabalenka* (*denotes next server)

Fernandez holds at love, slotting a gorgeous volley winner from the middle of the court along the way that draws ooohs from the crowd. Still on serve in the third.


Third set: *Fernandez 7-6, 4-6, 2-2 Sabalenka (*denotes next server)

A big pop in this crowd as Fernandez hits a backhand return winner for love-15. And even bigger pop as Fernandez hits a forehand return winner for love-30. Huge chance for the 19-year-old Canadian to take early control of this decider. Fernandez then mixes in a couple of errors for 30-all. Next Sabalenka rips a forehand that Fernandez can’t return into play before crunching a 109mph ace out wide to escape with the hold.


Third set: Fernandez 7-6, 4-6, 2-1 Sabalenka* (*denotes next server)

A comfortable hold for Fernandez. Sabalenka badly frames a forehand on game point for her 40th unforced error of the match (against 37 winners). By comparison, Fernandez has hit 16 winners against 18 unforced errors.


Third set: *Fernandez 7-6, 4-6, 1-1 Sabalenka (*denotes next server)

Sabalenka breezes through her first service game of the decider, getting four of five first serves in. She got only 59% in during the second set, down from 78% in the opener.


Third set: Fernandez 7-6, 4-6, 1-0 Sabalenka* (*denotes next server)

Fernandez races out to 40-15 on her serve to open the third, but mixes in a couple of errors for deuce to give Sabalenka some early hope. But Sabalenka sends a backhand from the baseline flying on the next point, then nets a backhand return to hold.


Sabalenka wins second set, 6-4!

Second set: Fernandez 7-6, 4-6 Sabalenka

Sabalenka makes quick work of it, capping a love hold with a forehand volley winner. We’re headed to a third and deciding set!

Aryna Sabalenka
Aryna Sabalenka has forced a third and deciding set in her US Open semi-final against Leylah Annie Fernandez. Photograph: Frank Franklin II/AP


Sabalenka breaks in ninth game of second set!

Second set: Fernandez 7-6, 4-5 Sabalenka* (*denotes next server)

A chance here for Sabalenka, who brings the crowd to its feet with a nifty passing shit winner to settle a 14-shot rally for love-15 on Fernandez’s serve. Fernandez then hits a forehand winner for 15-all, but nets a backhand on the next point for 15-30. Can Sabalenka capitalize here? Fernandez then makes another unforced error for 15-40, giving Sabalenka a pair of break-point chances. Sabalenka squanders the first with a scratchy backhand, but Fernandez errs early in the next point to gift Sabalenka the break of serve. The No 2 will serve for the set and to force a decider after the changeover.

Second set: *Fernandez 7-6, 4-4 Sabalenka (*denotes next server)

Sabalenka goes behind love-15 on her serve with her 32nd unforced error (against 32 winners). But she rattles off four quick points from there, punctuating the comfortable hold with a 119mph service winner down the center.

Second set: Fernandez 7-6, 4-3 Sabalenka* (*denotes next server)

Fernandez holds from love-15, winning four straight points including a 100mph ace out wide.

Leylah Annie Fernandez
Leylah Annie Fernandez reacts during a point on Thursday night at Arthur Ashe Stadium. Photograph: Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Second set: *Fernandez 7-6, 3-3 Sabalenka (*denotes next server)

Sabalenka pounds a backhand winner for 15-love on her serve, then gestures to the crowd to make noise after the point. She knows they’re largely backing Fernandez but she’s still currying for their favor. She then serves out the game in stress-free fashion, hitting back-to-back winners followed by a 113mph ace out wide.

Second set: Fernandez 7-6, 3-2 Sabalenka* (*denotes next server)

An error-strewn service game for Fernandez, who falls behind love-15 then 30-40 on her serve. A chance for Sabalenka to immediately break back. But Fernandez saves it with an 81mph second serve that Sabalenka can’t capitalize on. From deuce, Fernandez hits a volley winner then watches as a Sabalenka forehand whizzes harmlessly past the baseline to hold. Still on serve in the second. And Sabalenka is not thrilled, taking it out on her racket during the changeover.


Fernandez breaks in fourth game of second set!

Second set: *Fernandez 7-6, 2-2 Sabalenka (*denotes next server)

Sabalenka wins two quick points on her serve. But Fernandez follows with a backhand passing winner that brings the crowd to its feet for 15-30. Another Sabalenka double fault makes it 30-all and another Sabalenka unforced error gives Fernandez a break-point look. Big, big buzz in this crowd. And Fernandez converts, forcing Sabalenka to net a forehand with a well-struck backhand. We’re back on serve in the second!

Second set: Fernandez 7-6, 1-2 Sabalenka* (*denotes next server)

Fernandez races out to 40-love before a couple of loose points for 40-30. But she follows with her fourth ace of the night, a 92mph number out wide, to secure the hold and get on the board in the second set.

Aryna Sabalenka
Aryna Sabalenka has gone up an early break in the second set of Thursday’s US Open semi-final. Photograph: Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Second set: *Fernandez 7-6, 0-2 Sabalenka (*denotes next server)

Sabalenka is pushed to 30-all on her serve thanks to her 19th and 20th unforced errors (against 23 winners). But she pounds back-to-back winners from there to nail down the hold and consolidate the break.

Sabalenka breaks in first game of second set!

Second set: Fernandez 7-6, 0-1 Sabalenka* (*denotes next server)

A big chance for Sabalenka early in the second as Fernandez mixes in a couple of errors to go down love-30 on her serve. Fernandez than goes wide on a running backhand for love-40, giving Sabalenka three break-point chances. And she wastes no time, ripping a backhand winner from the baseline early in the point to break Fernandez at love.

Fernandez wins first set, 7-6 (3)!

First-set tiebreaker: Fernandez 7-3 Sabalenka

And Fernandez doesn’t mince about, hitting a 94mph serve out wide that Sabalenka can’t return into the court. The stadium goes wild! And Leylah Annie Fernandez is one set from the US Open women’s singles final!

Leylah Annie Fernandez
Leylah Annie Fernandez has taken the first set of her US Open semi-final match with Aryna Sabalenka in a first-set tiebreaker. Photograph: Sarah Stier/Getty Images


First-set tiebreaker: *Fernandez 6-3 Sabalenka (*denotes next server)

Fernandez wins a quick point on her serve for 4-3. Then Sabalenka, serving, botches a simple overhand to go down 3-5 and a minibreak. Oh dear! Huge cheers from the crowd, who’s squarely behind Fernandez. And now Sabalenka double-faults. Oh no! Three set points for Fernandez including the first two on her racket.

First-set tiebreaker: *Fernandez 3-3 Sabalenka (*denotes next server)

Fernandez promptly overcooks a backhand from the baseline for 3-all as the players change ends, back on serve in the first-set breaker.

First-set tiebreaker: *Fernandez 3-2 Sabalenka (*denotes next server)

Fernandez is on the board with a 93mph second-serve unreturnable, then gets back on serve at 2-all when Sabalenka makes an unforced error off a forehand. Another error by Sabalenka on her serve and now it’s Fernandez up 3-2 with the next two points on her racket!

First-set tiebreaker: *Fernandez 0-2 Sabalenka (*denotes next server)

Sabalenka, serving to star, opens with a forehand winner early in the point. And then Sabalenka draws first blood by winning the first point on Fernadez’s serve with a forehand winner for 2-0.

First set: Fernandez 6-6 Sabalenka

Fernandez serves her way to 30-love, but follows with an unforced forehand error then flinches at the end of a 12-shot rally for 30-all. Then Fernandez makes another unforced, this one off the backhand, to go 30-40 and set point down. Huge moment. Fault, second serve. And Sabalenka squanders the opportunity, netting a forehand early in the rally for deuce. Fernandez then pounds a forehand winner into the corner, but Sabalenka pushes it back to deuce after coming forward in a well-constructed point. From there Fernandez rattles off two quick points to hold and force a first-set tie-break.

First set: *Fernandez 5-6 Sabalenka (*denotes next server)

Sabalenka opens with a 102mph serve that Fernandez can’t get back into play, but then overcooks a forehand for 15-all, drawing a fist pump from Fernandez. A drop-shot winner by Sabalenka makes it 30-15 but another unforced error by Sabalenka gets it to 30-all and another pressure point. But Sabalenka serves it out comfortably from there. Fernandez to serve to force a first-set tiebreaker after the changeover.

First set: Fernandez 5-5 Sabalenka* (*denotes next server)

The late-arriving Ashe crowd has really filled this place up during the last changeover and there’s a rollocking atmosphere (maybe a little too loud!) as Fernandez steps up for this crucial service game. The Canadian races out to 30-love with an unreturnable serve followed by a backhand winner, then mixes in an unforced error off the backhand for 30-15. She follows with a backhand winner, then an unforced error after missing a forehand down the line. 40-30. Big point. And Fernandez answers the call with a 104mph service winner out wide to hold.

First set: *Fernandez 4-5 Sabalenka (*denotes next server)

Fernandez goes ahead love-15 on Sabalenka’s serve and chants of “Let’s go Ley-lah!” ring through the stadium after the point. Sabalenka hits a 108mph service winner for 15-all but makes another unforced error off the forehand for 15-30. Huge point. And Sabalenka comes through with a backhand winner, a 117mph ace down the middle, then a backhand winner into the corner to hold. Fernandez will serve to stay in the first set after the change of ends.

First set: Fernandez 4-4 Sabalenka* (*denotes next server)

A wobbly service game for Fernandez, who falls behind love-15, 15-30, then 30-40 and break point down. But the Canadian saves it for deuce with an angled forehand Sabalenka can’t handle, then serves out the game comfortably for 4-all.

Fernandez breaks in seventh game of first set!

First set: *Fernandez 3-4 Sabalenka (*denotes next server)

Sabalenka finally shows a bit of vulnerability on her serve, opening with her first double fault of the night followed by an error early in the point for love-30. A big buzz in the stadium. Sabalenka then makes an unforced error off her forehand for love-40, giving Fernandez three break-point opportunities. Sabalenka saves the first with a big second serve Fernandez can’t handle, then the second with a forehand winner to cap a grueling 13-stroke exchange. But Sabalenka then double-faults again to gift Fernandez the break. Back on serve in the first!

Leylah Annie Fernandez
Leylah Annie Fernandez serves to Aryna Sabalenka during Thursday’s match. Photograph: Elise Amendola/AP


First set: Fernandez 2-4 Sabalenka* (*denotes next server)

Fernandez holds at love for the first time, opening with her first and second aces, followed by a 100mph service winner out wide then a 95mph second-serve ace.

First set: *Fernandez 1-4 Sabalenka (*denotes next server)

Another imperious service game from Sabalenka, who caps another love hold with a 117mph ace. The world No 2 is serving lights out: she’s gotten 12 of 13 first serves in (92%) and won 11 of 12 first-serve points (92%).

First set: Fernandez 1-3 Sabalenka* (*denotes next server)

Fernandez caps a straightforward hold of serve with a crisp forehand winner early in the point to get on the board, drawing big cheers from the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd.

First set: *Fernandez 0-3 Sabalenka (*denotes next server)

Sabalenka backs up the break in style, holding at love for 3-love in the opener after only eight minutes. What a start for the No 2 seed: nine winners and zero unforced errors.

Aryna Sabalenka
Aryna Sabalenka is off to a flying start in Thursday night’s first US Open women’s semi-final against Leylah Annie Fernandez. Photograph: Frank Franklin II/AP


Sabalenka breaks in second game of first set!

First set: Fernandez 0-2 Sabalenka* (*denotes next server)

Lots of crowd support for Fernandez as she steps to the line for her opening service game. Sabalenka opens with a thudding backhand winner on Fernandez serve for love-15, then Fernandez makes an unforced error off her backhand for love-30. Already a pressure point for the young Canadian. Fernandez gets it to 15-30 with a big second serve, but then goes double break point down at 15-40 after Sabalenka hits a gorgeous forehand winner into the corner to cap a muscular 24-shot baseline rally. And Sabalenka needs only one of them, hitting her fifth winner (already!) to nail down the break.


First set: *Fernandez 0-1 Sabalenka (*denotes next server)

Sabalenka won the toss and elected to serve first. She opens it with a 106mph ace out wide. She follows with a 114mph unreturnable and a 108mph service winner out wide for 40-love. Fernandez gets on the board with a forehand passing winner (aided by a netcord that undercut Sabalenka early in the point), but Sabalenka follows with a 106mph unreturnable to the body. Emphatic opening service game for Sabalenka.

Fun fact about Fernandez before we get going. She is the youngest player to beat two players ranked in the WTA’s top five at the same major since Serena Williams at the 1999 US Open, when the American won the first of her 23 grand slam titles.

The players have emerged from the tunnel for tonight’s first semi-final. A bigger pop for the teenager Fernandez, suggesting that she will have the crowd in her corner tonight. They’re going through their warmup and we should be under way in the next few minutes.

No player has won more on tour this season than Sabalenka, whose 43 victories on the year include title runs at Abu Dhabi and Madrid. Recent history suggests things could go well for her tonight: she’s won 18 of 20 career matches against players ranked outside the top 50 since the start of 2021 with the lone defeats coming against No 94 Kaia Kanepi (Gippsland Trophy) and No 75 Camila Giorgi (Eastbourne).

Hello and welcome to Arthur Ashe Stadium for tonight’s first of two US Open women’s semi-finals between Leylah Annie Fernandez and Aryna Sabalenka. We’ve got a cracker of a match in store as the second-seeded Sabalenka looks to shed her nominal title as the best active player to have never won a major title against the surprise package Fernandez, who has rode a series of upsets into the last four.

The 73th-ranked Fernandez, who toppled defending champion Naomi Osaka, 2016 winner Angelique Kerber and the No 5 seed Elina Svitolina en route to the semi-finals (while celebrating her 19th birthday on Monday), is the only fourth Canadian woman in the Open era to reach the last four at a major, following in the footsteps of Carling Bassett-Seguso (1984 US Open), Eugenie Bouchard (2014 Australian Open; 2014 Roland Garros; 2014 Wimbledon) and Bianca Andreescu (2019 US Open).

Sabalenka, well, she needs no introduction if you’re even a casual observer of the women’s tour. The 23-year-old Belarusian has captured 10 tour titles in her career and climbed to No 2 in the world rankings. And she’s one of the in-form players of the tournament, having been broken only twice in 40 service games since surrendering her serve three times in the opening set and half of her first-round match with Nina Stojanovic. She has won an impressive 81% of her first-serve points at Flushing Meadows, while her 29 aces have taken her season total past 300.

It’s a gray, temperate 71F (22F) evening in Queens with the afternoon rains having moved on for the night (we hope). The players should be on court for their warm-up in a half hour.

Bryan will be here shortly, in the meantime here’s Shireen Ahmed on Canada’s recent tennis success:

A few months ago, Leylah Annie Fernandez was far from a household name in Canada. But after a series of stunning performances at the US Open, she is the toast of the town – french toast with extra maple syrup, to be precise.

The 19-year-old from Quebec celebrated her birthday just days ago and she joins her fellow Montrealer, 21-year-old Felix Auger-Aliassime, in the semi-finals of the US Open. The pair play the men’s and women’s world No 2s in their respective semi-finals: Auger-Aliassime against Daniil Medvedev on Friday night while Fernandez faces Aryna Sabalenka under the Arthur Ashe lights on Thursday.

It’s a fine era for Canadian tennis. Since Wimbledon 2014, Canada has had six different grand slam semi-finalists – Auger-Aliassime, Fernandez, Bianca Andreescu, Eugenie Bouchard, Milos Raonic and Denis Shapovalov. What’s more Auger-Aliassime is the first Canadian male to reach the semi-finals in US Open history.

The rise is no fluke. Canada, despite being famous for winter sports, has invested heavily in tennis and the results are starting to become apparent. Even more encouraging, the players represent the country’s diversity – Bouchard is French Canadian, Raonic was born in what is now Montenegro, Andreescu’s parents emigrated from Romania while Shapovalov’s mother is Ukrainian Jewish and his father is a Russian Orthodox Christian. Of this year’s semi-finalists, Fernandez is of Ecuadorian and Filipino descent while Auger-Aliassime’s father was born in Togo.

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