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Leylah Fernandez advances to US Open final with 3-set win over Aryna Sabalenka

Leylah Fernandez’s first major semifinal, at the US Open just days after her 19th birthday, did not go her way at the start.

After she recovered from that to take a lead, No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka pushed a match filled with momentum swings to a back-and-forth third set. No matter what, Fernandez did not worry. Didn’t waver.

And why would she at this point? The Canadian’s poise, it seems, is as limitless as her potential. And no foe, no matter how accomplished or highly ranked, poses an insurmountable problem.

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Speedy afoot and steady at crunch time, the unseeded Fernandez edged Sabalenka 7-6 (3), 4-6, 6-4 on Thursday night in Arthur Ashe Stadium, earning the right to play for a Grand Slam title.

It was the 73rd-ranked Fernandez’s fourth consecutive three-set triumph over a seeded opponent.

First came No. 3 Naomi Osaka, the 2018 and 2020 US Open champion. Then came No. 16 Angelique Kerber, the 2016 champ. That was followed by No. 5 Elina Svitolina and Sabalenka.

In Saturday’s final, the left-handed Fernandez will face either another unseeded teen, 18-year-old qualifier Emma Raducanu of Britain, or 17th-seeded Maria Sakkari of Greece. Neither of them has participated in a Grand Slam title match, either.

In the end, it was Sabalenka, a Wimbledon semifinalist in July, who let things get away from her. In the last match, she double-faulted twice in a row to set up match point, then sailed a forehand long.

Fernandez collapsed to the court and put her hands to her face. The men’s semifinals are Friday: No. 1 Novak Djokovic of Serbia versus No. 4 Alexander Zverev of Germany, and No. 2 Daniil Medvedev of Russia against No. 12 Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada.

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Leylah Fernandez, one day after turning 19, tops Elina Svitolina, advances to US Open semifinals

With no players from the United States left to pull for in the US Open, the fans are adopting a neighbor from the North to treat as one of their own: Leylah Fernandez, an unseeded Canadian teenager with an exciting game and enthusiasm to match.

A day after turning 19, Fernandez reached her first Grand Slam semifinal — and became the youngest player to get that far in the women’s bracket at Flushing Meadows since Maria Sharapova in 2005 — by adding a 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (5) triumph versus No. 5 Elina Svitolina on Tuesday to earlier wins over past US Open champions Naomi Osaka and Angelique Kerber.

“I obviously have no idea what I’m feeling right now,” said Fernandez, a left-hander with quick baseline reflexes who is ranked 73rd and participating in only the seventh major tournament of her nascent career. “I was so nervous. I was trying to do what my coach told me to do.”

That coach is her father, who isn’t in New York; he stayed home and is offering tips in daily phone conversations. That helps, certainly, as does the loud backing she has been receiving from the spectators, who rose and cheered wildly each time Fernandez raised a fist high above her head or wind-milled both arms after winning a key point in Arthur Ashe Stadium.

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“Thanks to you, I was able to push through today,” she told the crowd after edging Svitolina, the Tokyo Olympics bronze medalist whose two Grand Slam semifinal runs include the 2019 US Open.

Not requiring any encouragement to get out of his seat was Fernandez’s fitness coach, who would leap and shout, pointing fingers or waving clenched fists.

Svitolina’s husband, two-time major semifinalist Gael Monfils, offered similar support from Ashe’s other guest box.

It was touch-and-go down the stretch — even after Fernandez grabbed the opening set, and even after she led 5-2 in the third. One way in which she held a clear advantage: Of points that lasted more than eight shots, Fernandez won 26, Svitolina 16.

Five times, Fernandez was two points from winning but failed to collect the next point. Finally, at 5-all in the tiebreaker, she moved to match point when she smacked a down-the-line passing shot that got past Svitolina with the help of a bounce off the net tape.

Fernandez put up both palms, as if to say, “Sorry about that bit of luck,” while Svitolina put a hand to her mouth in dismay.

Svitolina’s backhand contributed to her undoing late, and when a return from that side landed long, it was over. Fernandez dropped to her knees at the baseline and covered her face; Svitolina walked around the net to approach Fernandez for a hug.

Next on this magical ride for Fernandez will come yet another test versus a player who is ranked higher and has more experience on the sport’s biggest stages: Aryna Sabalenka.

Sabalenka, the No. 2 seed, matched her best result in a Grand Slam tournament by reaching the semifinals via a 6-1, 6-4 triumph over French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova, who was seeded No. 8. Sabalenka acknowledged having confidence problems in the biggest tournaments earlier in her career, saying she has worked with a psychologist to deal with those fears.

It seems to be working, as Sabalenka made her initial Grand Slam semifinal at Wimbledon and will try to go a step further in New York.

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Murray out of US Open in straight sets defeat

The Canadian, 20, destroyed the double Olympic champion in ruthless style to win 6-2 6-3 6-4 in two hours and seven minutes.  

The No.15 seed hit 52 winners – versus only nine by Murray – and did not face a break point.  

It was a chastening loss for Murray, 33, in his first Grand Slam back with a metal hip. 

But the three-time Major winner, who was playing only his second event of the year, stated: “I would say even after tonight I’m more positive about what I could do in Grand Slams than I was before I came over here.  

“You guys obviously don’t know how I was feeling even just a couple of months ago.  “So to come over here and play, you know, I played a couple of tough matches in Cincinnati and I played certainly one very tough match here, and my right hip felt good. That’s really, really positive. 

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“There are other things that need to get better, but I would say that I’m more positive now than what I was a couple of months ago, that’s for sure. 

“In terms of winning Grand Slams again, that’s going to be extremely difficult to do.  

“It was hard enough when I had two normal hips. So it will be difficult, but I’ll keep trying, like, why not? Why shouldn’t I try my hardest to do that? And if I don’t, that’s all right. But I might as well shoot for the stars. And if I don’t get there, then that’s all right. But I’m trying my best to get the most out of what my body gives me now. 

“I’m ranked 115, 120 in the world and my game reflects that just now. So I’ll need to get better if I want to move up the rankings and be more competitive.” 

Murray defeated world No.7 Alex Zverev at the Western & Southern Open last week and came through an epic five-set victory over Yoshihito Nishioka in the first round. 

And he now plans to fly home before playing the French Open which begins on September 27.

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