Elina Svitolina made hard work of the first set against 16-year-old Leylah Fernandez. (Getty Images)
The 16-year-old Leylah Fernandez grew up in close proximity to the Arthur Ashe Stadium.
But she’s been waiting three years to play there, facing No. 3 Elina Svitolina in the quarterfinals of the US Open on Thursday. And she nearly turned down the invitation.
“Everyone knew that I was so nervous, but I was so afraid that if I showed up, then they’re going to boot me out. They’re going to keep me away from Arthur Ashe,” Fernandez told the New York Post.
She said she has no problem with the decision.
“I know I’m going to be on Arthur Ashe. Why should I cancel? I know I have a chance, and I’m going to give it my all,” she said.
She probably got her wish, as she rallied to upset Svitolina 2-6, 6-4, 7-5. She’ll face No. 2 Simona Halep, who defeated Andrea Petkovic 7-6 (7), 6-3, for a spot in the US Open finals.
Meanwhile, Svitolina broke her, then served it out, winning in 2 hours and 14 minutes.
She was a bit unlucky in falling behind, as her rivals went down in quick fashion, but that quickly turned into a rout.
“Maybe I started moving and I started feeling better. I had the opportunity to put some balls back, and then I started to think that I could possibly take it,” she said.
She ended the match with 37 unforced errors, not bad for a player ranked No. 7.
But she saved 24 of them, and broke Fernandez twice after she had succumbed to her nerves in the first set.
Svitolina had advanced to the quarterfinals with a straight-set win over No. 18 Andrea Petkovic. (AP)
“When you’re on court with her, you feel it more, like you don’t breathe in front of her,” said Svitolina, whose career best of No. 2 came last year. “You don’t react. Maybe if you breathe during a set, she feels you’re breathing in front of her, and then the game goes from there.”
As she noted, she also felt quite comfortable against Svitolina.
But, of course, those who were watching her were, too.
The 16-year-old Fernandez, a member of the USTA’s trainee program, and childhood friends sent tweets as soon as Svitolina began her postmatch interviews.
“I knew her game really well, and I felt like I would be able to prepare well. So I was ready for her,” Fernandez said.
In their only other match, Svitolina won their sole match last summer at a tournament in Los Angeles. In that one, the No. 3 player in the world ousted Fernandez, ranked 651st. But this time, her Swiss coach, Magnus Norman, was watching her while Ivan Lendl looked on on television.
Next up for Svitolina will be No. 2 Simona Halep, who rallied past Andrea Petkovic, 7-6 (7), 6-3. (AP)
“She didn’t miss any balls today. She’s a great player. She’s got a fantastic game and a great attitude,” said Svitolina, who lost in last year’s final to Serena Williams. “I’m happy for her.”
Halep has been troubled by cramping this tournament.
“Today I felt much better than in the previous matches because I was just feeling my legs a little bit better,” she said. “For sure, that’s good news for me.”
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