NEW YORK (AFP, REUTERS) - Britain's 18-year-old Emma Raducanu became the first qualifier to capture a Grand Slam title by defeating Canada's 19-year-old Leylah Fernandez on Saturday in the US Open women's final.
Raducanu, ranked 150th, was the first British woman in 44 years to win a Slam crown after dispatching 73rd-ranked left-hander Fernandez 6-4, 6-3.
Not since Virginia Wade in 1977 at Wimbledon had a British woman taken a Slam singles title, with Raducanu the first Briton to claim the US Open crown since Wade in 1968.
“As for the three weeks I’ve spent in New York I would say that having such a supportive team like I have over there… everyone in that team and everyone back home who isn’t here but is watching on TV thank you so much,” said Raducanu, who will shoot up from 150th to No. 24 in the world rankings on Monday.
“Most of all I would say thank you to everyone here New York thank you all for making me feel so at home from my first qualifying match all the way to the final.”
Wade and British men's tennis legend Tim Henman were among a sellout crowd of 23,700 that created an electric atmosphere at Arthur Ashe Stadium in the first-ever women's Slam final between unseeded players.
The showdown of prodigy talents was the first all-teen Slam final since 17-year-old Serena Williams beat 18-year-old Martina Hingis for the 1999 US Open crown.
Raducanu is the youngest US Open champion since Williams in 1999 and the first US Open women's champion not to drop a set since Williams in 2014.
Raducanu had the fewest Slam starts of any women's Slam winner, reaching the fourth round in July at Wimbledon in her only prior Slam appearance while Fernandez had won only four matches in six prior Slam appearances.
Intense from the start
The drama of a much-anticipated teen dream meeting produced tension from the start.
Fernandez saved five break points in her opening service game of the match before finally surrendering the 10-minute game on a netted forehand to give Raducanu a 2-0 edge.
Fernandez broke back in the third game, Raducanu netting a backhand on the fourth break point she faced.
With each game a roller-coaster of powerful groundstrokes and sensational shotmaking, the first set hung on a knife's edge game after game.
Raducanu forced three break points on Fernandez's serve in the 10th game, but sent backhands long, wide and into the net.
On her fourth opportunity, Raducanu blasted a forehand winner to claim the first set after 58 minutes.
In the second set, Fernandez saved three break points and held to 1-1 then broke on a netted backhand by Raducanu to seize a 2-1 edge.
Raducanu broke back to 2-2, blasting a backhand cross-court service return winner to equalize, then later whipped a forehand passing winner by the Canadian to break for a 4-2 advantage.
Raducanu held and forced two match points on Fernandez's serve in the eighth game but sent a backhand wide and netted a forehand with the title at stake and Fernandez held to 5-3.
Fernandez had a break chance at 30-40 in the ninth game when Raducanu skidded on the court on her left knee and opened a bleeding cut, the match halted while a trainer bandaged the wound.
Fernandez, wiping away tears, complained to the umpire about the granting of a medical timeout to no avail.
When play resumed, Fernandez sent a forehand long to squander the break chance and Raducanu ended matters after an hour and 51 minutes on her third ace of the match.
“It was an incredibly difficult match but I thought the level was extremely high,” said Raducanu. “Leylah’s always going to play great tennis and always going to fight – that’s just the competitor she is... I think just staying in the moment, focusing on what I had to do... really helped in those tough times.”
Fernandez, who turned 19 on Monday, had ousted defending champion Naomi Osaka, second-ranked Aryna Sabalenka, fifth seed Elina Svitolina and three-time Slam winner Angelique Kerber in her epic run to the final.
“I know on this day it was especially hard for New York and everyone around the United States,” said Fernandez, with the match played as Americans commemorated the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.
“I just want to say that I hope I can be as strong and as resilient as New York has been the past 20 years.”