'Vulnerable' teen finalists given major US Open 'warning'

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Pictured here, US Open women's singles finalists Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez.
Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez have been warned about the challenges that come with their newfound global stardom. Pic: Getty

Teen tennis sensations Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez may be riding a wave of euphoria, but the US Open women's finalists have been given a stern warning about their newfound status as global stars.

British 18-year-old Raducanu and Canada's 19-year-old phenom Fernandez have become the toast of the tennis world on the back of their improbable march to the Flushing Meadows final.

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The teenage prodigies have set the sport alight with their fearless play and youthful exuberance, and regardless of a win or loss in Sunday morning's (AEST) final, both of their lives will never be the same again.

With their incredible rise to fame off the back of a stunning run of form, comes a whole new level of pressure and public scrutiny that some can find suffocating.

"Everyone is going to want them, every tournament is going to want them to play," said Ashley Keber, the WTA Tour's vice-president of member relations, who leads a team that develops programs and resources for players and their teams.

Virtual unknowns when the year began, Raducanu and Fernandez are anonymous faces no more to New York crowds chanting their names and celebrities offering praise on social media.

Following her semi-final win over Maria Sakkari on Thursday, Raducanu was asked by a reporter how it felt to be the most famous person in Britain.

A lot to digest for a tennis-loving schoolgirl who sat her A-levels, high school-leaving exams, in June.

From royalty to the prime ministers of Canada and Britain to sports stars and the famous, the world has taken notice and so has the WTA.

While the WTA has programs in place to help players cope with the demands of the sport, Keber acknowledged Raducanu and Fernandez will require a little more diligence.

You don't need to look hard to find cautionary tales.

Fernandez and Raducanu have exuded an invincible aura, but so did Naomi Osaka.

Pictured here, Japan's Naomi Osaka reacts with disappointment during her 2021 US Open defeat.
Naomi Osaka is just one young player who's struggled to deal with the burden that comes with being a global superstar. Pic: Getty

As a 20-year-old, Osaka was anointed tennis's next big thing in 2018, winning the first of her four Grand Slam titles in the very same Arthur Ashe Stadium.

The three years since have been challenging for Osaka, who has struggled to deal with the crushing expectations, putting the focus on athletes' mental health.

Protecting teenage stars will be key

Beaten in the third round by Fernandez last week, the distraught defending champion left Flushing Meadows saying she did not know when she would play again.

"We have seen this before and that's where we draw our knowledge from and try to get ahead of some of these items," said Keber. 

"We can't predict on an individual level but we have seen some of the warning signs overall.

"Let's be honest, these are tough times, people are growing, they are going to make mistakes.

"It doesn't mean it is going to be perfect or a smooth path but how can we make it as smooth as possible."

When the US Open ends for both teenage stars they will step out of their grand slam dream into the cold reality of the day-to-day grind, weighted down by expectations and obligations that were not part of their lives two weeks ago.

Pictured here, teenage tennis stars Leylah Fernandez and Emma Raducanu at the US Open.
Leylah Fernandez and Emma Raducanu are into the US Open final. Image: Getty

Protecting those assets from added stress will be a priority for a women's game looking for new engaging identities as the careers of Serena and Venus Williams draw closer to an end.

"This will be a vulnerable time for them win-or-lose and it is not just the next couple of days. It will be many months, and I think this is where their teams can reach out to us."

Their time in New York has been unencumbered by the burden of expectations and the pressure that comes with them.

"Now there is no pressure on her (Fernandez) at all," said second seed Aryna Sabalenka after being knocked out in the semi-finals by the 73rd-ranked Canadian. 

"Crowds are here for her. You're kind of feeling this crush and you're using it, hitting the ball, not really thinking, everything is going in.

"This is nice kind of feeling. I felt it before.

"But the question is when you will start to understand what's going on and where you are, how good can you deal with all these expectations and all this level, all this pressure."

with AAP

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