Teens facing off at U.S. Open final create ‘fairy tale moment’ for tennis fans

Saturday's U.S. Open women’s singles championship match will be a fairy tale ending no matter who wins. The finalists are 19-year-old Leylah Fernandez, of Canada, and 18 -year-old Emma Raducanu, of Britain, both of whom were relatively unknown just a couple of weeks ago. Stacey Allaster, the U.S. Open tournament director, joins John Yang to discuss.

Read the Full Transcript

  • John Yang:

    Tomorrow's U.S. Open women's singles championship match will be a fairy tale ending, no matter who wins.

    The finalists, 19-year-old Leylah Fernandez of Canada and 18-year-old Emma Raducanu of Britain, were barely known just a couple of weeks ago, other than to the closest followers of the sport.

    Stacey Allaster is the U.S. Open Tournament director, the first woman in that job. And she's also the former CEO of the Women's Tennis Association. She joins me now from New York.

    Stacey, who are these two young women? And tell us a little bit about their paths to tomorrow's match the last couple of weeks.

  • Stacey Allaster, Director, U.S. Open Tournament:

    Well, they have become instant stars in these last two weeks here in New York at the U.S. Open.

    Leylah, she had her 19th birthday here. She's from Canada. She's been playing the sport since she was 7 years old, comes with an athletic father. He was an Ecuadorian soccer player, and her father is her coach. Her mom is a French Canadian of Filipino dissent.

    I have seen her in the juniors for a few years. And everybody kept talking about her. And it is really incredible. She beat three Grand Slam champions to get to the final of a major here in New York. Incredible.

    And Emma is a similar story of incredible accomplishments here in three weeks. Emma played in the qualifying, where you're trying to earn your way into the main draw. She beat the Olympic gold medalist. She's been playing since she was 5.

    But these two young athletes are lifers, been playing a long time, and they are having their fairy tale moment here on Arthur Ashe.

  • John Yang:

    And Emma not too long ago was finishing her high school finals, final exams, what they call the A Levels in Great Britain.

    As you say, they have developed quite a following in their march to the finals. I mean, what's this going to be like? What do you anticipate tomorrow to be like in the stadium?

  • Stacey Allaster:

    Well, we have had, John, the most incredible two weeks. Everyone keeps saying this has been the most exciting U.S. Open. The fans just seem to be energized at a different level. Maybe it's because of the pandemic and they're just so happy that they can come to a live sporting event. Or is it — and/or is it what's happened on the court?

    And it has been unbelievable matches. We have played almost 20 hours more than what we had scheduled on ESPN. So I think it's been the quality of the competition. The fans have been into it. And the fans have helped lift up these two particular — everyone loves the underdog, and each athlete has said that the fans have helped pull them through to this final moment.

    I cannot wait for tomorrow. It will be electric, and history will be made tomorrow afternoon.

  • John Yang:

    This is a sport where the favorites tend to be the same — the same usual names tournament after tournament. What does this do for the sport to have these two young women, fresh faces, in the finals?

  • Stacey Allaster:

    It's an exciting time for our sport.

    We have been blessed with Serena Williams. We have had her in the draw for almost a quarter-of-a-century. And everyone, as we started this tournament, we don't have Serena, we don't have Roger, we don't have Rafa to injury. What is the future of tennis? Where are the next champions?

    And I said at the start of the tournament, what we know for certain, as legacy athletes begin their next chapter in life, the next generation comes along, they stand on their shoulders, and they take the sport to the next level. And these two athletes have done it. And it really is then fantastic to bring more youth to our sport.

    For the USDA, our mission is to recruit new, diverse participants. To two — to have two athletes of color and of Asian descent is fantastic for the growth of our sport. That's really — at the end of the day, they inspire kids to come to a game. And we want everyone to feel welcome to play the sport of tennis.

  • John Yang:

    You mentioned the legacy sports stars of this — of this game.

    I have to ask you, as we sit here, we will know later tonight whether Novak Djokovic will play in the finals on Sunday for the chance to be the first calendar year Grand Slam winner in 52 years, since Rod Laver did it. What — talk a little bit about the significance of that.

  • Stacey Allaster:

    The fact that a male hasn't won a Grand Slam since 1969 just shows you how hard, physically, it is to do.

    And Novak, alongside of 20 majors, this would be 21. So there's that historic moment. And with the pandemic and the difficulties of performing, week in, week out, I think it is even further incredible that tonight and possibly on Sunday he will be going for that calendar Grand Slam. It's really, really historic.

    And he's written his own legacy, irrespective of what happens tonight.

  • John Yang:

    Stacey Allaster, tournament director of the U.S. Open, you have got a big weekend coming up. Thank you very much.

  • Stacey Allaster:

    Thank you, John.

Listen to this Segment