This year’s US Open contained many interesting storylines: an 18 turned 19 year old Canadian beating four consecutive top 20 players, including three top 5 seeds, an 18 year old qualifier winning a major without losing a set in just her fourth WTA tournament, and an 18 year old defeating the third seed in an epic five-setter. What might these all have in common, you ask? Teenagers. All of these feats were accomplished by teenagers.
Let’s start with the Women’s side of the draw. Entering the third round, all top 8 seeds were still in the draw. Ash Barty, the World No. 1, was widely called a clear favorite to win the tournament, and Naomi Osaka, the defending champion, was expected to return to form on her favorite surface after a tumultuous year. By the end of the third round, both women were eliminated from the draw in epic three setters. Barty lost a third set tiebreak to Shelby Rogers in a dramatic tiebreak. Leylah Fernandez, a then 18 year old lefty (who turned 19 during the tournament) took out Osaka in three tight sets in an electrifying night session match on Ashe. Soon enough, two of the favorites to win the tournament were out.
While many debated the implications of these two upsets, few noticed the 18 year old Brit storming through the draw. Emma Raducanu, who made her WTA debut with a 4th Round appearance at Wimbledon in July, still hadn’t lost a set all tournament. Raducanu took down Rogers in the 4th Round before beating 11th seed Belinda Bencic, the recent Olympic gold medalist, in the Quarterfinals. She then routed Maria Sakkari of Greece to become the first qualifier to make a major final. While Raducanu destroyed her opponents without losing a set, Fernandez wasn’t so lucky. After narrowly beating Osaka, Fernandez survived a close match against former World No. 1 and US Open champion Angelique Kerber in the 4th round before beating 5th seed Elina Svitolina in a final set tiebreak. Fernandez was now set up to meet her toughest opponent yet: World No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka, a powerful hitter from Belarus. After going down a break in the first set, Fernandez fought back to force a tiebreak and won it. Sabalenka battled back in the second with some good serving to force a decider, but the Canadian was too good in the key moments.
The final was the unthinkable- two teenagers battling it out for tennis’ greatest glory, a Grand Slam. It ended in a close two set match, with Fernandez narrowly losing out to Raducanu’s aggressive play. After Fernandez saved two championship points on her serve at 2-5 in the second, she forced Raducanu to serve it out. At 30/30, Raducanu slid for a ball behind the baseline before Fernandez hit a forehand that would ultimately end the point. In the process of sliding, Raducanu cut her leg, and the referee called a medical timeout in the middle of the game. This resulted in a dispute from Fernandez, who could be visibly seen arguing with the referee. Raducanu got her knee taped and went on to hold and seal the match with an ace before falling to the ground.
On the men’s side, most observers were keeping a close eye on Novak Djokovic, the number one ranked Serbian who was looking to complete the Calendar Grand Slam, which would include winning all four majors in a year. This hasn’t been done since Rod Laver in 1969, and is an extremely difficult achievement.
While the experienced Serb would eventually go on to lose to 2nd seed Daniil Medvedev in the final, his quest for the Grand Slam wasn’t the only story of the tournament for the men. In the third round, 18 year old Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz, touted by many to be the next Nadal, took down 3rd seed Stefanos Tsitsipas in the third round. The teenager did so in what was one of the most dramatic matches of the tournament. In the third set, at a set apiece, Tsitsipas served for the set up a double break at 5-2. Alcaraz saved three set points at 2-5 before coming back to tie the set at 5-5. In an epic game at 5-5, Alcaraz saved two break points to hold and force Tsitsipas to take it to a tiebreak. The Greek obliged, and the Spaniard decisively won the tiebreak, sealing it with a backhand winner down the line. Tsitsipas rebounded quickly, and won the fourth set 6-0 to force a deciding set. Alcaraz took a medical timeout at the end of the fourth set. Physically hampered, Alcaraz fought his way through every service game to send the match to a tiebreak as Tsitsipas served brilliantly to hold. At first, neither could find a way to win a point on the other’s service points in the tiebreak, After smashing a Tsitsipas second serve down the line for a winner, Alcaraz found himself up a mini-break. He consolidated on the next two points with winners off both wings to lead 5/2. Tsitsipas hit an ace but made a volley error on the next point to hand Alcaraz three match points up 6/3. Alcaraz missed a backhand on the first one. On the second, the Spaniard went back to his trusty dropshot, a shot that has worked for him all match. After bringing the Greek to the net, Alcaraz floated the lob to what appeared to be right on the baseline. The crowd erupted in cheer before being quickly silenced after seeing the chair umpire hold his finger in the air – the signal for out. He wasn’t fazed, though. On the next point, Tsitsipas floated a backhand slice into the middle of the court to give Alcaraz the chance to finish out the match with one forehand. The Spaniard hit an inside-out winner into the corner to finish the match, and the crowd got on their feet immediately to celebrate.
So is this US Open finally the ‘Teenage Takeover’? Raducanu, Fernandez, and Alcaraz all impressed and played entertaining matches, with Alcaraz making the Quarterfinals while the women met in the final. This was one of the most fun majors to watch in a long time, and the question of whether these teens can replicate their results is what people will be watching in the future.