Leylah vs Emma

I like these names. Leylah, as usual, is pretty familiar to Indian ears as it’s in stories and folklore and movies of India. And Emma is familiar to anyone who is familiar with Jane Austen. It’s one of those famous books which I haven’t read. Yet the name has a sweet tone.

Leylah Fernandez and Emma Raducanu are both teenagers. Laylah just turned 19 and Emma will reach that figure in November this year. If age counts and if days and months count too, then this makes Emma younger and more potent on the court by few months. Both of them have defeated opponents who are not much old at all. Yet, during movements on the court and during long rallies, it’s very noticeable that the younger of the two have more reach, speed, and relentlessness, with no compromise on accuracy.

Emma Raducanu’s presence in the US Open 2021 has a history. Initially, she was not on the list of players. They called her in when the original participant, Jeļena Ostapenko, withdrew. But before getting her place in the first round, Raducanu had to go through a qualifier and in one of the three qualifiers, she defeated the experienced Mayar Sherif.

After defeating 4th seed Sharif in the qualifiers, the other seeded players she defeated were 11th seed Bencic, the Olympic 2020 Gold Medallist, in the quarterfinals and 11st seed Sakkari in the semifinals. Compared to Leylah, Raducanu has an easier ride to the finals, being pitched against lower ranked players.

Unlike Raducanu, Leylah played against higher ranked players. She defeated 3rd seed Osaka in the third round, after which Osaka seems to have quit tennis for the time being. Then she beat 16th seed Kerber, this year’s Wimbledon semifinalist, 5th seed Svitolina and finally, 2nd seed Sabalenka to reach the finals.

Till the eve of finals; Raducanu played 9 tournaments with total 18 sets and 18 wins. Leylah has played 6 tournaments with 16 sets and 12 wins. With quality and quantity head-to-head, Raducanu has more match and more wins, but Leylah has defeated higher ranked players.

If the intentions are good- statistics will tell a lot. But not without the usual clause, because life is uncertain. Past performance is no guarantee for future returns, in tennis or other-wise. Yet, one can gain judgment and perspective just by having some judgement and perspective to start with.

When Leylah walks on the court to face Raducanu in the finals of the US Open 2021, she will have several advantages in the game in which Raducanu is yet untested.

Leylah has shown something which the followers of Federer, Djokovic and Nadal may have noticed – the ability to raise the game whenever required. In most games, Leylah played three sets and faced tie breaks. If experience is anything in tennis (though many experienced players lose badly), then Leylah has that mental ability to get out of a hole and raise her game up a notch.

If Raducanu faces similar situations, will she be able to come back? That’s the question not known yet.

Raducanu is untested in either in comebacks after a set loss, and in three setters, and in tie break situations. One way to approach this is to consider that Raducanu may be a better player, that she has more skills and better technique, that she doesn’t get into sticky situations and shows her anticipation.

One would choose to be a Raducanu. Be lucky, at least to start with. She was at home when a phone-call notified a vacancy in the US Open. It may have been the world’s shortest time to say – Yes. Time and Talent met. Probably that’s called Dream-Run.

But one would love to see Leylah win. She has worked her way up with victories, defeats, and in one instance, against Kerber, a temporary debacle in the quality of her game. For people who show both their successes and failures and faults, the vulnerabilities, the benevolent majority always wish for their success.

I would love Leylah to win.