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