Great Britain's Emma Raducanu continued her dominant form in New York, defeating No.18 Maria Sakkari 6-1, 6-4 in the semifinals to advance to her first major final at the US Open. The 18-year-old became the first qualifier, male or female, to advance to a major final.
Raducanu will face 19-year-old Canadian Leylah Fernandez on Championship Saturday, in the first all-teenage major final since Serena Williams defeated Martina Hingis at the 1999 US Open. Raducanu's run has also ended a trio of British droughts. She is the youngest British major finalist in 62 years, the first British woman to reach a major final in 44 years and the first British woman to reach the US Open final in 53 years.
"Honestly I just can't believe it," Raducanu said. "A shock. Crazy. All of the above."
Martina & Serena 🤝 Leylah & Emma pic.twitter.com/t0sp8S0oQX— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 10, 2021
Playing in just her second Slam and making her US Open debut, the Toronto-born Brit has not come close to losing a single set through six matches. With wins over Olympic gold medalist Belinda Bencic in the quarterfinals and Sakkari in the semifinals, the 150th-ranked Raducanu scored back-to-back Top 20 wins for the first time in her nascent career.
"I always had dreams of playing in Grand Slams, but I just didn't know when they would come," Raducanu said. "To come this early, at this point in my career, I've only really been on tour for a month, two months since Wimbledon. It's pretty crazy to me."
Sakkari earned a spot in her second major semifinal of the season with a stunning pair of Top 10 wins over 2019 champion Bianca Andreescu and World No.4 Karolina Pliskova. The 26-year-old from Greece came into the match full of confidence, particularly after her stunning straight-sets win over Pliskova in the quarterfinals, a match in which she never faced a break point.
While Sakkari had made her first major semifinal just three months at Roland Garros, where she came within a point of the final, Raducanu was bidding to make her first tour-level final. The teen phenom played her first WTA tournament on the grass of Nottingham in June, and in her Grand Slam debut at Wimbledon, she progressed to the Round of 16. She built on her strong summer with a run to the final of the WTA 125K in Chicago last month and hasn't lost a set of tennis since. On Monday, she will end Johanna Konta's 310-week reign as the No.1 British woman, with a chance to rise to No.24 if she captures the title.
"Leading up to the US Open I had a lot of matches coming in," Raducanu said. "I played a 125 in Chicago, a 100K the week before. I think I was building with each match. 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 step up against some of the best players in the world.
"I personally think inside I knew I had some sort of level inside of me 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."
Emma Raducanu is playing flawless tennis in Ashe. pic.twitter.com/bvrGk3YHRO— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 10, 2021
The key moments came early in the match, as Sakkari earned a total of seven break points across Raducanu's first two service games, but could not convert. Instead, it was Raducanu breaking Sakkari in her first service game before racing to a 5-0 lead. Having wiped out Sakkari's early chances and the Greek struggling to find her range off the ground, Raducanu would not face a break point for the remainder of the match.
Sakkari fought to stay within a break of Raducanu as the second set nudged toward the finish line, but the Brit came through two clinical service games to hold to 5-3 and then close out the 6-1, 6-4 win after 1 hour and 23 minutes.
Raducanu played a clutch match off the ground, hitting 16 winners to 17 unforced errors, while Sakkari struggled to control the ball, hitting 17 winners to 33 unforced errors. Raducanu served at 71% first serves in and dominated her service games, winning 72% of her first serve and, most impressively, 69% of her second serves. Ultimately, Sakkari won just 29% of her return points in the match.
"She plays fearless," Sakkari said. "She absolutely goes for it. She does the right thing actually. She has nothing to lose. She's enjoying herself.
"But we were all absent from the court these days playing against her. I saw Belinda yesterday. I don't want to speak for her, but I think she would agree with me that we did not bring our best performance. I'm sad. I'm very broken that I couldn't make it to my first final once again. But I'm positive that it will come sometime soon."
Saturday's final will be the first major final in the Open Era to feature two unseeded players. No.150 Raducanu has not lost a set through qualifying or main draw play, while No.73 Fernandez has fought her way through three Top 5 players (Naomi Osaka, Elina Svitolina, and Aryna Sabalenka) and a former champion (Angelique Kerber) in a quartet of dramatic three-set victories.
Raducanu and Fernandez are junior contemporaries but have yet to face on the pro tour. They have played each other once in juniors, at the 2018 Wimbledon girls' event, with Raducanu winning 6-2, 6-4 in the second round. Fernandez had won the Roland Garros girls' event just a few weeks earlier.
"We first encountered each other because I was born in Toronto and she was Canadian, so we kind of, like, made a little relationship back then," Raducanu said. "Then I played her at junior Wimbledon. Obviously since then, we've both come very far in our games and as people.
"I'm sure it's going to be extremely different to when we last encountered each other. But we're both playing good tennis so it will be a good match."