Canadian teen Fernandez ends Osaka’s US Open title defense in third round stunner; Sabalenka to play Mertens

NEW YORK, New York – Canada’s Leylah Fernandez tallied the upset of the first week at the US Open, defeating No.3 Naomi Osaka 5-7, 7-6(2), 6-3 to end the 2020 champion’s title defense in the third round. The win is the 18-year-old’s second Top 5 win of her career and puts the World No.73 into her first Round of 16 at a Slam, where she will face 2016 US Open champion Angelique Kerber. 

Now ranked No.73, Fernandez is a former junior champion at 2019 Roland Garros who made her Top 100 debut a year ago after the US Open. An athletic left-hander who chose tennis over soccer, Fernandez won her first WTA title earlier this season on the hardcourts of Monterrey. Since that triumph in March, Fernandez had not won back-to-back main draw matches until her first two rounds in New York. But her wins were notable, defeating Ana Konjuh and the always dangerous Kaia Kanepi in straight sets. 

Osaka received a walkover into the third round after Serbia’s Olga Danilovic withdrew ahead of their second-round match on Wednesday. Riding a 16-match winning streak at the Slams, which dates back to her triumph here last year, Osaka started the match sharply, particularly on her serve, which did not face a break point in the first set. After the pair exchanged holds for 10 games, Osaka reeled off the last nine points of the opening set to take it 7-5.

Osaka continued to roll through her service games in the second set. But as Osaka cruised through her service games, so did Fernandez. 

“I was very happy how I played in the first set,” Fernandez said. “I was serving well. I was playing well. She just edged up near the end. In the break I was telling myself to stay positive, keep fighting. I’m there, I’m close.

Turning Point: As in the first set, Osaka earned her only break of the second set at 5-5, but this time the former No.1 could not close. Serving at 6-5, Osaka misfired to fall behind a quick 0-40 and Fernandez had a look at break points for the first time in the match. The Canadian converted on her third with a good return that earned a forehand error to force a tiebreak.

“In the second set, I guess on the very last game I found the solution to the problem of returning her serve. I’m glad that I found it.”

“I don’t think I won more than two points on the return up until that game. I was trying to find different looks. I started off really far from the line. Then I was just edging closer and closer. Finally, I found a pattern to her serve. I just trusted my gut and hit the ball.”

Rattled by the abrupt turn of events, Osaka played an error-filled tiebreak to quickly fall behind 5-0 and Fernandez closed out a 7-2 tiebreak with a 102 m.p.h. first serve wide that Osaka could not control. 

Fernandez took her momentum into the third set and immediately broke Osaka for a 2-0 lead. But the former No.1 rediscovered her range just in time to get out of a 15-40 jam to keep Fernandez to a break advantage at 2-1. 

With Osaka back on the boil, the pressure began to mount on the Fernandez service games. The crucial game in the final set came with the teenager serving at 3-2, 30-all. With Osaka looking on the verge of getting the break back, Fernandez forced a backhand into the net to get to game point and then closed it out as Osaka pushed a big forehand just long of the baseline. 

Having escaped with her lead intact and the crowd behind her, Fernandez coolly served out the win, holding at love to seal her stunning comeback. Fernandez finished the match with 28 winners to 24 unforced errors. Osaka fired 37 winners, including 15 aces, to 36 unforced errors.

Stat of the Match: Fernandez was broken just once in the match, as her left-handed serve flummoxed Osaka’s return all night. Osaka landed just 62% of her returns in the match, a lower clip than Fernandez’s 66%. Osaka won just one point off the Fernandez first serve in the final set.

Key Quote: “From a very young age, I knew I was able to beat anyone, anyone who is in front of me,” Fernandez said. “Even playing different sports, I was always that competitive, saying I’m going to win against them, I’m going to win against my dad in soccer, even though that’s like impossible. I’ve always had that belief. I’ve always, like, tried to use that in every match that I go on.

“I guess today that belief came true.”

READ: Osaka considering a break from tennis after third-round loss at US Open

Next up: Into the Round of 16 for the first time, Fernandez will face No.17 Kerber for a spot in the quarterfinals. The German came through a tough three-set battle with 2017 champion Sloane Stephens earlier in the day, coming back to win 5-7, 6-2, 6-3. It will be the first meeting between the two. 

Aryna Sabalenka seals return to Round of 16 with win over Danielle Collins

The No.2 seed is back in the Round of 16 in New York for the first time since 2018, defeating San Jose champion Danielle Collins 6-3, 6-3 in 1 hour and 29 minutes. The match finished just after 1:00 a.m.

Sabalenka was locked in off the ground from the start of the match, firing 34 winners to just 13 unforced errors to tally her 41st win of the season. Collins played a clean match herself, hitting 24 winners to 16 unforced errors, but the American could not find the answers to Sabalenks’s power. 

Stat of the Match: Sabalenka was unbroken in the match, saving the three break points she faced in the first set.  

Next up: Sabalenka will face her good friend and former doubles partner Elise Mertens for a spot in her first US Open quarterfinal. Sabalenka leads the head-to-head 5-2 and has won their last four meetings. This will be their second meeting of 2021, with Mertens having to retire mid-match in the Madrid quarterfinals. Sabalenka went on to win the tournament. 

Elise Mertens ousts Ons Jabeur to return to Round of 16

No.15 seed Mertens played a disciplined, clean match to defeat No.20 seed Ons Jabeur 6-3, 7-5 to advance to her fourth consecutive Round of 16 in New York. The Belgian hit just six unforced errors off the ground for the match to unwind a misfiring Jabeur in 1 hour and 28 minutes. The clinical win ends a dramatic week for the 25-year-old two-time quarterfinalist, who had to save six match points to defeat Sweden’s Rebecca Peterson in the first round. 

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