Leylah Annie Fernandez will play for the biggest title of her life on Saturday in the U.S. Open final — and for a purse of $2.5 million.
But her father and coach, Jorge Fernandez, won’t be at the match because he’s “extremely superstitious.” The last time he showed up for one of his daughter’s finals was the 2020 Acapulco final, and she lost to Britain’s Heather Watson.
The elder Fernandez made the trip to New York from Florida but will watch the Open final between his 19-year-old daughter and 18-year-old Emma Raducanu of Britain on TV (4 p.m., ESPN).
“No, I am not going to be there tomorrow,” Jorge Fernandez said via Zoom call with reporters Friday. “Yes, I’m extremely superstitious. My daughter is as well.”
He added: “Look, I’ve been using the same shampoo on game day, kind of using the same jeans on game day, I think the same socks and underwear. It’s taken to a completely different level.
“It’s always been that way. It’s nothing new. You do your shoelaces a certain way, you do this a certain way. Leylah and I have always kind of, when we figured out what’s working, we don’t mess with it. That’s to a fault, right? Because sometimes you end up messing about with things that you shouldn’t mess about with.
“It’s working, so let’s not ruin it. The last time I showed up to a finals it was Acapulco when she made it to the finals and she lost it. I was hating myself for a good two months afterwards. I didn’t really want to talk about it. I didn’t want to talk to anybody.”
The elder Fernandez watched from Florida as his daughter mowed down four-time major champion Naomi Osaka, three-time major winner Angelique Kerber and No. 5 Elina Svitolina to get to the semifinals. He was in New York on Thursday night when Fernandez took out a third top-5 player in No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka in three tough sets.
The final will mark the the first time since 1999 that two teenagers are vying for the title. That year, 17-year-old Serena Williams beat Martina Hingis in the final after taking out Monica Seles and Lindsay Davenport to get there.
Both Fernandez and Raducanu play with a poise and power that belies their age, and both have smartly played to the New York night crowds that have quickly bonded with them like they did Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Andy Roddick and other firey American stars.
Raducanu enters the match as the slight favorite, as she’s yet to drop a set through her nine matches played in New York, which includes three rounds of qualifying.
The two teenagers know one another from the juniors, where Raducanu won 6-4, 6-4 in the Wimbledon juniors a few years back.
“Emma made the finals because she earned her right to be in the finals,” Jorge said. “Nobody gave it to her, right? What she did was absolutely fantastic, as well. I mean, c’mon, [beating Maria] Sakkari, this is not just a regular player.”
Jorge goes over the game plan with his daughter before each of Leylah’s matches but had yet to do that as of Friday afternoon.
“I’ve yet to finalize any little details to the match plan,” he said. “But so far she’s been following the match plan very well. In key moments she’s been executing very well.
“That’s what the focus is going to be as opposed to it’s a junior player, she’s higher ranked. That just creates more pressure, right? That just creates an expectation of, well, honest, if she was 150… No, unfortunately for me that’s a very junior mentality.”
Both players have Canadian and Asian ties. Fernandez was born in Montreal. Jorge is a former soccer player from Ecuador and her mother Irene is Filipino.
Raducanu’s father, Ian, is Romanian and her mother, Renee, Chinese. Raducanu’s parents moved from Canada to the United Kingdom when she was just 2.
“I’m glad that they’re touching the Asian community,” Jorge said. “I think that’s a huge opportunity in the women’s game just to be able to expand and have a new style. Like tomorrow’s matchup is 2002, that’s their year [when they were born]. You might as well call it the 2002 US Open final. It’s silly.
“I think it’s just positive for the game. Obviously I want Leylah to win. That goes without saying. But I just think that the matchup and what we’re seeing, those two ladies are touching a lot of young girls. They’re touching a lot of young people. I’m getting messages about, you know, Please pass this to Leylah, little girls saying, You’re making us believe. This can only be good for the tennis game and the WTA altogether.”
Coming into the Open, there was much speculation about how much interest there would be in the tennis with stars like Serena and Venus Williams, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal all sidelined by injury. Meantime, no American man or woman reached the quarterfinals for the first time ever, while two Canadians reached at least the semifinals (Felix Auger-Aliassime on the men’s side).
Yet the tournament has been deemed an overwhelming success — with Novak Djokovic still alive for the first Grand Slam in men’s tennis since 1969 and two teenagers storming their way to the ladies final.
“We have to look at the big picture here, right?” Jorge said. “We have to look at something as simple as changing of the guard, right? Who’s going to be the next generation that’s going to come in? What type of play are they going to bring? I see they’re both bringing a type of game that is not common right now on the circuit. It’s not as common as we think it is.”