A Canadian teenager is the only woman standing between Serena Williams and her quest to equal Margaret Court’s all-time grand slam singles title record at the US Open.
Bianca Andreescu, 19, in her first-ever main draw appearance at New York’s Flushing Meadows, continued her meteoric rise with a steely 7-6(3) 7-5 victory over No.13 seed Belinda Bencic.
Yes, @Bandreescu_, this is definitely REAL LIFE! 🇨🇦🙌
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 6, 2019
The No.15 seed weathered six break points in the first set, before reeling off five consecutive games to recover a second set deficit and secure her finals berth, following a match that lasted two hours and 12 minutes.
The Ontario teen contested the major’s qualifying tournament in 2018, succumbing in its first round, while ranked outside of the world’s top 200.
Once she departs New York this time around, she will feature in the world’s top 10 players.
Earlier, 23-time grand slam champion Williams notched up another clinical performance, this time over Ukraine’s world No.5 Elina Svitolina 6-3 6-1, to advance to her 10th US Open final.
The 37-year-old American, who is bidding to become the oldest major singles champion in tennis history, was laser-focussed from the outset.
She leaped out to a 3-0 lead in the opening set, before sealing it in 41 minutes.
Appearing even sharper in the second set, the six-time US Open winner secured a double break and closed out the match in one hour and 10 minutes, racking up a record 33rd grand slam singles final appearance in the process.
Williams’ 101st victory at Flushing Meadows also matched fellow American Chris Evert’s record for most US Open match wins.
“It’s impressive to be in any club with Chrissie. It’s just really awesome,” Williams said after belting 34 winners to Svitolina’s 11 on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Who is Bianca Andreescu, and what’s at stake?
Andreescu appeared comfortable exploring unchartered territory in what’s undoubtedly been her breakout season.
Recovering from heartbreak on Flushing Meadows’ outside courts in 2018, the highest-ranked teenager in women’s tennis won the biggest title of her career in March, at the Premier Mandatory-level BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells.
Her barnstorming run in the Californian desert saw her dispatch two-time Slam champion Garbine Muguruza, Svitolina, before conquering Germany’s Angelique Kerber in a thrilling three-set decider.
Andreescu followed that success up last month by claiming the Rogers Cup title in her own backyard. She defeated Williams in the final, after the American retired with back spasms.
Her surge to the New York final continues a remarkable streak, where she has failed to lose a fully-completed match since February.
Andreescu is also making history, as the first tennis player born in the 2000s, male or female, to appear in a major final.
It’s sober reading for Serena Williams.
The six-time US Open champion, in her bid to equal Margaret Court’s all-time record, stumbled at the final hurdle on three previous occasions.
Each one followed the birth of her daughter, Alexis Olympia.
The American succumbed to Naomi Osaka in last year’s drama-charged US Open decider, in which Williams received a game penalty deep that precipitated an extraordinary second-set meltdown, and lost the 2018 and 2019 Wimbledon finals to Angelique Kerber and Simona Halep respectively.
However, Williams has the backing of tennis trailblazer Billie Jean King, who told ESPN she is ‘praying’ for a victory.
“It would be great if she won this and then went to Australia and won 25 there – that’s my prayer,” King told the US sports network.
Many tennis fans interpreted the comments as a veiled swipe at Court, now a Pentecostal Christian minister in Perth, who has courted controversy in recent years with outspoken comments on same-sex marriage.
"It would be great if she won this and then broke the record in Australia. That's my prayer." -Billie Jean King, on ESPN, wants Serena to take down Margaret Court at Court's place. #USOpen
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) September 6, 2019
Williams reached her 10th New York finale three days shy of her first major triumph on Arthur Ashe 20 years ago.
Ironically, the Canadian hitting her searing strokes across the net on Saturday night (Sunday morning (AEST)) was yet to be born.
Final under New York’s Saturday night lights
More than 23,000 people, hoping to witness what could be tennis history, are expected to pack Arthur Ashe Stadium for the blockbuster encounter.
Fans paying between $US200 ($293) and $US2100 ($3079) for tickets will be gunning for a competitive encounter, following Williams’ 44-minute dismantling of China’s Qiang Wang in the quarter-finals.
The Big Apple’s crowds are noted for its flurry of superstars.
Model Gigi Hadid was spotted enthusiastically supporting Williams earlier in the tournament, while Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams and Nathalie Emmanuel have also caught a slice of the tennis action.