Marlon Miller

ESPN tennis host Chris McKendry said the word “incredible” four times in the first two sentences of her post-match monologue so I’ll try not to use that descriptive adjective again.

But the superlatives were fully deserved during and after last Saturday’s women’s final at the US Open in New York.

The two teenage finalists either had you on the edge of your seat or out of it and on your feet cheering them on as they hit it out in front of a raucous crowd in Arthur Ashe Stadium.

But their accomplishments even before they went onto centre court made sure they were the biggest show in sport that evening.

On Thursday night, when 19-year-old Leylah Fernandez and 18-year-old Emma Raducanu had dispatched their semi-final opponents in contrasting fashion, McKendry’s colleague Chris Fowler said it was the first time that two teens made it to a major final since 1999, when Serena Williams, 17, beat Martina Hingis, 19, also at Flushing Meadows.

You knew then that “Fernandez-Raducanu” would be a once-in-a-generation match-up and if either of them could go on to be half as good as their illustrious predecessors she would have a good career.

I can’t recall if I saw that Williams-Hingis final, I doubt it, but I won’t soon forget the 2021 edition and even made sure to convince my two daughters to interrupt their “busy” schedules in foreign lands to look at it, stressing the significance of the clash.

One fell asleep and the other remarked: “Yeah, it was good to watch,” so at least 50 per cent of them could say they were witness to the opening act of a new era.

The latest darlings of the tennis world had come out of nowhere so Google would have been working overtime when the final was set, inquisitive eyes reading that Canadian Fernandez’s father was from Ecuador, a professional footballer and her first coach, and her mother has Filipino roots, while Raducanu was also born in Canada and moved to Great Britain with her Romanian father and Chinese mother when she was two years old.

At the start of the tournament, Fernandez was 200-1 and Raducanu 100-1 with the bookmakers, but they both set about defying those odds, laying low all who stood in their way, no matter their superior ranking.

Raducanu also became the first qualifier, male or female, to make it all the way to the final of one of the four major contests on the tennis calendar.

How could you not want to watch these amazing youths with their beaming smiles and bubbly personalities compete on one of the biggest stages in sport?

And they continued their fearless play in the final, showing no nerves and trading shot after blistering shot like two seasoned pros who were accustomed to the bright lights of the Big Apple, right down to the last sizzling serve, an ace by Raducanu to win it all.

I must confess that I was backing Leylah and took note of when early in the match she won a point thanks to the ball tipping the net tape and dropping over the other side with Emma out of reach.

The lithe lass held up her hand in apology with a big grin, but the next time it happened, deep in the tussle for the title, she again acknowledged her opponent, although then with a dead serious face.

The battle was well and truly on.

But Fernandez’s serve let her down on crucial points, while Raducanu was relentless throughout and did everything a bit better.

“Emma played incredible all-round tennis,” I texted my daughters, that ubiquitous word appearing before McKendry’s wrap-up so I could claim first use here.

And quickly added: “They were both brilliant.”

But even while still relishing their match for the ages, you could not help looking ahead and thinking about how these two terrific teens will fare in the years to come, now as international celebrities, especially in the age of that beast called social media, where complete idiots can say whatever they want, no matter how offensive or asinine.

I vividly recall three or four years ago when Naomi Osaka won her first major title at the same venue and I was taken by her innocence and giggly demeanour at the trophy presentation.

Last May, Osaka pulled out of the French Open, upset over the mandatory press conferences, and has left her immediate future in tennis in doubt after going down to Fernandez in the third round at Flushing Meadows, throwing her racket in frustration during the match.

Raducanu has already gone through an “anxiety attack”, according to Fowler, forfeiting a match at Wimbledon earlier this year, but she has certainly come a long way since then.

That incident in her homeland was raised by ESPN analyst and former top player Pam Shriver when Raducanu made it to the broadcaster’s onsite studio with her trophy in hand. The champion didn’t directly answer what happened that day, Shriver advising to “not read everything written about you”.

Which led me back home, where idle people who can’t kick a lime find the time on a keyboard to denigrate our sportsmen and women, especially those who represented Trinidad and Tobago at the last two Olympic Games.

Hopefully, Emma and Leylah won’t ever get exposed to their poison.

And even though Saturday’s showdown will be a tough act to follow, they’ll continue to entertain us for many more finals to come.

marlon.miller@trinidadexpress.com

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