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Rivard: The US Open starring Leylah and Emma

Sep 15, 2021
written by: Paul Rivard
written by: Paul Rivard

Stats keepers had a rough go of it, and search engines overheated all week. 

In the end, two teenagers posted a few new records to the books. One even clinched the title.  

Canadian Leylah Fernandez and Emma Raducanu of Great Britain made history at the 2021 US Open. It was the very first time two unseeded players found their way to the final of a Grand Slam.  

With her 6-4, 6-3 victory, Raducanu became the very first qualifier to win a major. She also happens to be the first qualifier to reach the semis and the first qualifier to reach the final. Raising the winner’s trophy was just icing on the cake, really.  

Photo : US Open

It’s also about how she managed to do it. Including the qualies, she competed in ten matches in Queens without dropping a set. Speaking of those sets, she closed them out with an (unbelievable) average score of 6-2.  

As for the other finalist, our very own Leylah Fernandez, she had an epic title run, slaying four WTA stars, including three members of the Top 5 and two Grand Slam titleholders.  

Was Leylah running on empty after all the emotion and love she got from New Yorkers and fans around the world? Perhaps.   

In London, fans got to know a player three months Leylah’s junior who showed strength of character and garnered just as much attention. Emma extended the streak she embarked upon in June and rose from No.366 to No.23 (yes, that’s 243 spots in the rankings).  

Let’s not be chauvinistic and give her all the credit she deserves, since her race for the crown was absolutely perfect.  

Emma Raducanu of the UK smiles and lifts her hands to her head
Photo : US Open

And let’s also give plenty of credit to the young Canadian who entertained and inspired us. Who would have ever thought that Bianca’s equally inspiring achievement would be repeated barely 24 months later by another Tennis Canada grad?  

Today, Leylah is World No. 28 (up 45 places) and $1.25M richer (about $500K more than her total earnings in her young career).  

We can’t wait to see what she does next. 

I’d be remiss if I didn’t write a line about the 19-year-old’s astonishing maturity, specifically the time she took to acknowledge the significance of September 11 for the New Yorkers and Americans in the stands and at home—words that touched so many.

Phoenix Auger-Aliassime

In legends, the phoenix is an immortal bird that rises anew from its ashes. 

And just like the mythical creature, Félix has gone through several cycles of fading and reawakening in 2021. 

He flew high in the ATP sky, dipped and rose again, more brilliant than ever.

Auger-Aliassime roars at the US Open in celebration
Photo: camerawork usa

We all want to believe the lows are behind him this season and perhaps even next season, but that would be looking at tennis through rose-coloured glasses. Indeed, the Quebecer’s learning curve is likely still pretty steep.  

All the same, he took all of us Canadians—tennis fans and beyond—on quite a flight these past two weeks!   

With the $675K he pocketed in New York and the $1.19M he’s earned so far this year, he’s now accumulated over $5M in career earnings. More importantly, the new World No.11 is currently the highest ranked Canadian in the ATP, just ahead of No.12 Denis Shapovalov. 

There’s no denying that Félix has had a great season, but there’s also no denying that there have been some ups and downs. 

The title Phoenix Auger-Aliassime was actually inspired by Gilles Ayotte of Mont-Tremblant, who sent me an email to share his thoughts. I’d like to thank him for the catchy title, which could have also been Félix’s rollercoaster ride.  

Here’s why. 

Table with Félix's stats from 2021
Photo : Paul Rivard

So, 0.666 / 0.400 / 0.769 / 0.250 / 0.800.  

That’s an average of 0.635 in 2021 (33-19) and, more importantly, of 0.750 in Grand Slams (12-4). 

And his 2021 season isn’t over yet. Will he hit another peak or start on a downward spiral?  

I’ve often written about the importance of being patient. He’s still young, even though it seems like he’s been around the courts for years. For the record, he’s only 21. 

And I’m not alone. On September 10, Alexandre Pratt highlighted some fun facts in La Presse newspaper to remind readers that the best players came into their own at 20 or 21. Novak Djokovic won his first Grand Slam title at 20. Roger Federer and Andy Roddick were 21. Some took a lot longer: Andy Murray at 25, Dominic Thiem at 27 and Stan Wawrinka at 28. Among the Next Gen, a lot of headliners are still working to secure a major crown, like No.4 Alexander Zverev and No.3 Stefanos Tsitsipas. As for No.2 Daniil Medvedev, he’s just won his first at 25.  

And speaking of Medvedev, when he was the age Félix is today, 21 years and 1 month, he was World No. 60 and had never won an ATP title. Since then, he’s won 12. 

Let’s ponder that for a moment. 

Good player, good sport

Félix Auger-Aliassime holds his sportsmanship award at the US Open
Photo : US Open

It’s not the trophy he was hoping for, but it’s still more hardware for his well-stocked trophy case.  

Just a few hours after falling in the semis of the US Open, Félix Auger-Aliassime was awarded the 2021 US Open Sportsperson Award along with Ashleigh Barty of Australia.  

Handed out annually since 2011, it recognizes athletes who demonstrate remarkable sportsmanship in the US Open Series and at the US Open.  

Barty, who lost in the third round, won her first Sportsperson Award in 2018. Kei Nishikori, Naomi Osaka, Roger Federer, Juan Martin del Potro and Angelique Kerber have all taken one home.  

The award committee is made up of representatives from the USTA, journalists and formers players, including Todd Martin, Mary Joe Fernandez and Chanda Rubin.  

Gaby and Luisa’s broken dream 

Win together, lose together.  

It’s a sports cliché that applies to all teams, from football to doubles. 

And in doubles, when one player can’t go on, the other has to stop, too.  

On September 10, that’s exactly what happened to Gabriela Dabrowski at the US Open when her partner Luisa Stefani of Brazil suddenly fell to the ground in the first set of their semifinal bout against Coco Gauff and Caty McNally at the US Open.  

In the first-set tiebreaker, Dabrowski and Stefani were up 2-0 when Luisa suddenly changed direction at the net. Her right knee didn’t follow, and she came crashing down. As for Gaby, competitiveness and automatism compelled her to play on.  

The seconds that followed were surreal.  

Dabrowski and Stafani on court, Stefani on the ground holding her knee
Image : TSN

No one gets up from that type of injury to finish the match. As she comforted her partner during the medical assessment, it wasn’t hard to imagine what Gabriela Dabrowski was thinking as her dream of winning her first major in women’s doubles went up in smoke.  

Dabrowski and Stefani on court with a doctor treating Stefani
Image : TSN

Our first reaction is to feel terrible for Gabriela, the third Canadian to reach the semis of the US Open (a first!).  

But let’s put things into perspective. The Canadian has already won two majors in mixed doubles (Paris 2017 and Melbourne 2018). Luisa has none. The semi was one of the biggest matches of her career.  

Stefani just earned bronze at the Tokyo Olympics, and she and Dabrowski were on fire of late. Luisa is also the first Brazilian woman to go so far in a Slam since Maria Esther Bueno, who won the 1968 title 53 years ago with none other than Margaret Court.

Stefani being taken off court on a wheelchair by a US Open staff
Image : TSN

In a message in Portuguese posted to her Twitter account, Luisa said: “The day was long and difficult. I did the exams, and they showed I tore my knee ligament. I still don’t know what the next steps are. I’m in good hands and talking to the doctors. Now, it’s time to focus on recovery. I would like to thank you very much for all your support, affection and concern. Everything will be all right.”  

A picture is worth a thousand…

On Twitter, French tennis media outlet Tennis Majors dubbed this shot of Novak Djokovic taken right before the curtain fell on the US Open photo of the year.

It doesn’t happen often, but Nole has cried on the court. But during a match? I don’t think so. 

The unexpected show of emotion came during a change of ends, with Daniil Medvedev leading 6-4, 6-4, 5-4 and even though the Serbian superstar had just kickstarted one of the deadly comebacks that have steamrolled so many of his opponents in his illustrious career.  

Down 1-5 in the third, Djokovic won on serve and broke Medvedev after saving a break. He won again on serve as the crowd leaped to its feet in an ovation that made the Djoker smile and then sob in his towel.  

In his post-match speech, he expressed how touched he was by all the love.  

Then, just as the finish line was coming into view in his quest to become the first ATP player in 52 years to win a Calendar Grand Slam, the pressure became unbearable.  

Since the first of his 27 consecutive wins at the majors, since his Wimbledon title, the record was all anyone ever talked about.  

The World No.1’s tumble at the Tokyo Games had already crossed out his loftier goal of securing a Golden Slam. After battling to reach the US Open final, it was all overwhelming. Possibly unbearable.  

In the last ten minutes of the match, Djokovic seemed to be on autopilot, waiting for things to wrap up, ready to catch the next flight out of NYC. 

The fans’ last-ditch efforts to rouse him were just too much to bear.

And the Djoker cried.

Get in touch with me! 

Email: privard@tenniscanada.com 

Twitter: @paul6rivard 

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