Unseeded Leylah Fernandez rolls into U.S. Open semifinals after thriller in quarters

By Stefan Bondy

NEW YORK — It was the biggest point of the match, probably the biggest of Leylah Fernandez’s young career.

The third-set tiebreaker was tied at 5, and Fernandez was on her heels after squandering a 4-1 advantage. The point looked lost. Ukranian fifth seed Elina Svitolina had sent Fernandez into a scramble, and it would’ve been excusable in that moment — after all Fernandez already accomplished at the Open, after another two-plus hours of roller-coaster tennis — if the emerging star finally betrayed a weakness.

Seconds later, Fernandez won match point and officially defeated Svitolina. She then collapsed to the court in a celebratory cry. Her Cinderella Story continues into the semis.

“I honestly have no idea what I’m feeling right now,” Fernandez said in the post-match on-court interview. “Throughout the match I was so nervous.”

One day after Fernandez’s 19th birthday, the unseeded Canadian conquered another top player in the quarterfinal Tuesday, outlasting Svitolina, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6. She next faces the winner of No. 8 Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic and No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus. And at this point, nobody should be surprised if Fernandez triumphs.

She has already toppled two former Open champions — Naomi Osaka and Angelique Kerber. She has captured the full attention and embrace of the crowd at Flushing, which helped elevate Fernandez’s matches into marquee events. Without any Americans remaining in this tournament, Fernandez is the spunky fan favorite.

Like her victory over Kerber days prior, Fernandez’s first major quarterfinal provided drama. Svitolina isn’t a big name in tennis — mostly because the 26-year-old hasn’t broken through in majors yet — but the Ukranian is an accomplished veteran just two years removed from advancing to the Open semis.

But Fernandez dominated the first set. She won the opening game of the second and then the momentum shifted. The shouts and fist-bumps switched to the side of Svitolina, who won five straight games and eventually the second set.

Fernandez recovered and broke Svitolina in the fourth game of the third set, highlighted by a ping-pong back-and-forth at the net. Svitolina immediately broke back and the match careened toward the deciding tiebreaker.

Twice Fernandez failed to capitalize on an upper hand (she served for the match at 5-3 in the third set and squandered a 4-1 lead in the tiebreaker), and twice she averted collapse.

The Little Teenager that Could.

———

It’s a low point for U.S. tennis.

For the first time in the Open’s very long history (it dates to the 19th century), the quarterfinals didn’t include at least one American man or woman.

And it wasn’t for a lack of participants. Americans had the most players in the field — for both genders — but none carried a ranking higher than 21 (Sloane Stephens). They all flamed out by the fourth round.

Men’s American tennis has lacked star power for years, with Andy Roddick capturing the nation’s last major title in 2003. This U.S. Open was more disappointing for the women relative to expectations.

Welcome to tennis after the Williams sisters.


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