The Pick Sabalenka Fernandez USO SF No Logo

Leylah Fernandez vs. Aryna Sabalenka

There’s only one question worth asking as we consider this semifinal: Will Fernandez be able to maintain her current, stratospheric level of play, or will she fall to earth? As Andy Roddick once said, sooner or later a player will show you why they’re ranked where they’re ranked. In Fernandez’s case, that’s No. 73. In her last two events before the US Open, she lost in the first round both times, to 121st-ranked Harriet Dart, and Alison Riske, 6-2, 6-2. At some point, if all things really do revert to the mean eventually, Fernandez will throw in a clunker of a match.

But there are at least two reasons to believe that the Roddick Rule doesn’t apply in Fernandez’s case. First, she’s only 18, so she probably wasn’t destined to spend her career at No. 73 anyway. And despite ample opportunity in New York, she hasn’t fallen to earth yet. In fact, she has only improved since upsetting Naomi Osaka in the third round, and has shown no fear in Arthur Ashe Stadium. Not only that, she has won the crowd over, and will have them on her side for this semifinal.

Ranking-wise, Fernandez will face her toughest test in Sabalenka. The No. 2 seed hasn’t been involved in any of the dramatic matches that have defined this Open, and has lost just one set. I’m sure that’s fine by her, but now she’ll need to be ready for the Fernandez phenomenon, and everything that comes with it. Sabalenka has never faced the Canadian, or the way she takes the ball on the rise and drives it back deep, giving her opponents little time to recover. We know Sabalenka belongs here; after making the semis at Wimbledon, a run to the Open final would make perfect sense. But right now, Fernandez is playing better tennis. If she stays in the stratosphere, she can win this. Winner: Fernandez

It’s difficult to know how these two might match up. Raducanu has the steady, controlled game, while Sakkari injects more power and athleticism into the points.

It’s difficult to know how these two might match up. Raducanu has the steady, controlled game, while Sakkari injects more power and athleticism into the points.

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Maria Sakkari vs. Emma Raducanu

While Fernandez has been winning in spectacular three-set fashion, her fellow 18-year-old Raducanu has cruised to her first Grand Slam semifinal like a veteran champion—no fuss, no muss. Counting qualifying rounds, she has won eight matches in New York without dropping a set, and has let an opponent get to 7-5 just once. Raducanu has done it with exemplary balance. She plays offensively, but doesn’t take big risks or try to pummel the ball. Everything about her game is measured and purposeful and quite predictable, with margin built in to each shot, and she’s equally strong off both wings.

Can Sakkari solve the Radu riddle, and finally make her sweat a little? They’ve never played before, but based on her last two matches, everything seems to be coming together for the 26-year-old Greek. In fourth round, she out-blasted Bianca Andreescu in a a late-night war; winning that seemed to free her up to play comprehensively good tennis in a one-sided win over fourth-seeded Karolina Pliskova. Her serve, her forehand, her anticipation, her swing volleys: They were all clicking.

It’s difficult to know how these two might match up. Raducanu has the steady, controlled game, while Sakkari injects more power and athleticism into the points. Raducanu’s style may be easier to maintain under the pressure of her first major semifinal, but Sakkari seems to be peaking at just the right time. Winner: Sakkari