When Leylah Fernandez wins a pivotal point at the U.S. Open — and she’s won enough of them to become the tournament’s youngest semifinalist since Maria Sharapova in 2005 — the teenager with the exciting game and enthusiasm to match raises her right fist or windmills her arms, firing up herself and therefore the crowd. What often happens next, after good points or bad, is simply as important to the success of the unseeded Canadian left-hander with the fast reflexes: She’ll turn her back to the court and her opponent, face the wall behind the baseline for a couple of moments, gather herself and repeat whatever that day’s mantra of choice is.
During Tuesday’s 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (5) victory against No. 5 seed Elina Svitolina in Ashe Stadium, which followed wins over past U.S. Open champions and former No. 1s Naomi Osaka and Angelique Kerber, Fernandez focused on self-belief. “I was only thinking of trusting myself, trusting my game. After every point, win or lose, I might always tell myself, ‘Trust my game. choose my shots. Just see where the ball goes,’” said Fernandez, who turned 19 on Monday and had never been past the third round in her previous half-dozen major appearances. “I see what I’m feeling. I see if there’s one phrase that basically catches me or that creates me more motivated than the others. I just keep it throughout the match.”
It’s working. Another Canadian moved into the semifinals when 21-year-old Felix Auger-Aliassime’s opponent Tuesday night, 18-year-old Carlos Alcaraz of Spain, stopped playing within the second set while trailing 6-3, 3-1 due to a problem with a muscle in his right leg. Alcaraz was coming off two five-set wins during a row — including against No. 3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas — that made him the youngest male quarterfinalist in any since 1963. “It’s really tough to finish an excellent tournament like this,” Alcaraz said, “but I had no choice.”
The 12th-seeded Auger-Aliassime is that the first man from Canada to succeed in the U.S. Open semifinals and plays No. 2, Daniil Medvedev, next. Medvedev, a 25-year-old from Russia, earned a spot within the final four at Flushing Meadows for the third consecutive year by stopping the surprising run of Dutch qualifier Biotic van de Zandschulp 6-3, 6-0, 4-6, 7-5. With no players from us left to tug for, U.S. Open fans are adopting their neighbors from the North — although the 73rd-ranked Fernandez actually is predicated in Florida after being born in Montreal to a Filipino Canadian mother and an Ecuadorian father.
Fernandez’s father is additionally her coach but isn’t in New York; he stayed home for what Fernandez called “personal reasons” and is offering tips in daily phone conversations. “I called him right after the match, once I visited the room,” she said. “He honestly told me that I put him through hell and back with this match.” And the spectators loved every minute of it. “Thanks to you, i used to be ready to erupt today,” she told the gang after edging Svitolina, the Tokyo Olympics bronze medalist who’s been to 2 slam semifinals, including at the 2019 U.S. Open.
Truth is, Fernandez likes the spotlight. Asked whether she’s more nervous against a top player during a big arena or a lower-ranked player at a smaller site, her reply was simple: “There’s no difference.” Hard to argue that immediately . It was touch-and-go down the stretch — even after Fernandez grabbed the opening set, even after she led 5-2 within the third. a method during which she held a transparent advantage: Of points that lasted quite eight shots, Fernandez won 26, Svitolina 16.
Five times, Fernandez was two points from winning but did not collect subsequent points. Finally, at 5-all within the tiebreaker, she moved to point when she smacked a down-the-line return that got past Svitolina with the assistance of a bounce off internet tape. Fernandez gestured as if to mention, “Sorry that,” while Svitolina put a hand to her mouth in dismay. “A bit lucky,” Fernandez said later. “But I’ll take all the luck I can get.” Svitolina’s backhand contributed to her undoing late, and when a return from that side landed long, it had been over. Fernandez dropped to her knees at the baseline and covered her face; Svitolina walked round the net to return over for a hug.
Next on this magical ride for Fernandez will come yet one more test against a player who is ranked higher and has more experience on the sport’s biggest stages. On Thursday, she is going to play No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka, a Wimbledon semifinalist in July, who defeated French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova 6-1, 6-4 in the dark . Waiting for her night match, Sabalenka said she practiced during Fernandez vs. Svitolina, “and we didn’t actually need to observe the score because we heard the gang really yelling.” Krejcikova was the sole woman remaining within the field who already features a slam title.
But she said her play was affected against Sabalenka by “not really being in a perfect shape” after handling cramps and dizziness in her fourth-round win Sunday over two-time major champ Garbiñe Muguruza. Krejcikova took a medical timeout late within the match, then took her time between points down the stretch, and Muguruza told her that behavior was “so unprofessional.” Asked that Tuesday, Krejcikova said: “I got really humiliated by a slam champion, which I’ve never seen.”
As within the women’s draw, just one man within the quarterfinals already owns a serious trophy: Novak Djokovic, who not only is seeking a record-breaking 21st but also trying to become the primary man since Laver in 1969 to win a calendar-year slam . Medvedev has compared . He lost to Djokovic during this year’s Australian Open final and to Rafael Nadal within the 2019 U.S. Open final. The only way he could meet Djokovic at this point would be within the title match on Sunday. But first things first. “I don’t believe him, because as we saw, anybody can beat anybody,” Medvedev said. “If he’s within the final, and if I’m there, I’m happy. He’s also happy, I guess.”