Raducanu, whose parents work in finance, does not appear to be fueled by a desire to quiet the skeptics and, unlike Fernandez, she was not firmly set on being a professional tennis player until recently.
“Maybe two years ago,” she said. “I always had my education as a backup. I was doing it alongside my tennis. I had options. I still do, but obviously I’m a hundred percent in my tennis now.”
Raducanu and Fernandez met as juniors, and Raducanu said they connected over their Canadian roots. But until now their most significant previous match was in the second round of the Wimbledon junior tournament in 2018.
They will meet again on Saturday with rather more at stake in the first U.S. Open women’s final between unseeded players.
Picking a winner looks like a fool’s errand in light of both players’ inexperience at this level. Raducanu has been the more dominant force, dispatching opponents with powerful precision, and is tied for second in the tournament in the percentage of return games won and percentage of service games won. Fernandez has had to scrap, hustle and believe through four straight three setters. But Fernandez also has had a tougher draw: defeating two former No. 1 players in Naomi Osaka and Angelique Kerber, the former WTA Finals champ Elina Svitolina and the imposing Sabalenka.
Fernandez’s ability to beat that many quality players in taut, tight matches is a tribute to her resolve, adaptability and talent. She is a left-hander, and her serve, particularly her first serve, has been very effective. She has been selectively and effectively bold, hitting more return winners (22) than any player in this Open. Sabalenka overwhelmed her early on Thursday but Fernandez then adjusted to the pace and reeled her in, exchanging low baseline bolts at times and abruptly changing pace with drop shots at others.
As tempting as it is to consider this the arrival of two new top-tier players, the recent history of women’s tennis argues for more restraint. The game has been producing new contenders at a rapid clip. Since the start of 2015, there will have been 13 first-time Grand Slam singles champions, with Raducanu or Fernandez set to be the 14th. Some of those champions have established themselves as No. 1 players, like Osaka and Ashleigh Barty. But others have fallen back like Sloane Stephens and Jelena Ostapenko.