Canada's Fernandez, U.S. partner stroll into French Open women's doubles final

Canada's Leylah Fernandez and American playing partner Taylor Townsend advanced to the women's doubles finals at the French Open on Friday.

Djokovic puts away Alcaraz in marquee men's singles semifinal, to face Ruud for title

A tennis player hits a backhand.
Canada’s Leylah Fernandez, seen above, and American playing partner Taylor Townsend advanced to the women’s doubles finals at the French Open on Friday. (Jean-Francois Badias/The Canadian Press)

Leylah Fernandez's dream of a Grand Slam title is now within reach.

Fernandez and American partner Taylor Townsend blew away the second-seeded Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula, 6-0, 6-4 in the French Open women's doubles semifinals on Friday. They next face the unseeded duo of Hsieh Su-Wei of Taiwan and Wang Xinyu of China in Sunday's final.

Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic used every bit of his experience, relentlessness and fitness to beat a cramping Carlos Alcaraz 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1 and move one win away from a record 23rd Grand Slam title.

The women's doubles title would be the first Grand Slam victory of any kind for Fernandez of Laval, Que., who won the girls' junior singles championship at Roland Garros in 2019.

"It's a dream, no matter if it's in singles, doubles or mixed doubles," Fernandez said. "Everyone here, all the players taking part in the tournament have a dream — to play and win a Grand Slam, to bring the trophy home.

"So to have the opportunity to play Sunday on [Court Philippe] Chatrier is exciting, and I can't wait to play and share the court with Taylor once again."

Townsend was equally excited.

"I'm just honestly so proud of how we were able to play and perform," she said. "I told Leylah after the match that this is what we've been building towards over the past couple of months, just figuring each other out to now understanding each other so well and being able to play such great, consistent tennis against the [No. 2] seeds."

The duo reached the Miami Open final in just their second tournament together in April. Fernandez has now turned the tears of a second-round defeat in women's singles into cheers as she and Townsend, 27, look to win the Simonne-Mathieu Cup.

Fernandez's father and coach, Jorge, and younger sister, Bianca, arrived in Paris from Portugal where Bianca was playing a lower-level Challenger event.

"I hadn't seen them for quite a while, so it did me a lot of good to have my family here with me," she said.

Cramps doom Alcaraz

The No. 1-ranked Alcaraz produced one particularly brilliant shot — one that went viral within minutes and could be talked about for years — en route to claiming the second set of what, at the time, was a closely contested and thrilling showdown.

But in the end, this highly anticipated matchup was as anti-climatic as can be.

That's because early in the third set, after nearly 2 1/2 hours of exertion and tension in 85-degree heat at Court Philippe Chatrier, Alcaraz's body began to lock up. First, his hand began to cramp. Then his legs. And so, at 1-all, Alcaraz needed to take a break and get treated by a trainer. Because it was not a changeover, Alcaraz was required to forfeit the following game and fell behind 2-1.

From there, it was pretty much all over. Djokovic, who is 36, was able to cruise to the finish against Alcaraz, who is 20, making for the widest age gap in a men's Grand Slam semifinal since 1991.

It was the 45th Grand Slam semifinal for Djokovic and the second for Alcaraz.

"I feel for him. I feel sorry. ... I hope he can recover very soon," Djokovic said. "I told him at the net, he knows how young he is. He has plenty of time ahead of him. He's going to win this tournament, I'm sure, many, many times."

Not this time.

On Sunday, Djokovic will meet No. 4 Casper Ruud, who eliminated No. 22 Alexander Zverev 6-3, 6-4, 6-0.

Ruud will be playing in his third final at the past five majors — including in Paris a year ago, when he lost to Nadal — but is still seeking his first such trophy.

"I tired to play without too many feelings," Ruud said, "without too much pressure."

Nadal was absent from his favourite tournament this year because of a hip injury; he had arthroscopic surgery last week.

'Improving with every tournament'

Fernandez and Townsend's opponents in Sunday's final are playing just their second tournament together.

Hsieh, at 37 and back from an 18-month sabbatical, has 30 career doubles titles including the 2014 French Open. Wang, 21, isn't even ranked in the top 100 in doubles and has two minor titles to her credit.

Fernandez believes they can be victorious.

"We're a very good team, and we're improving with every tournament — our results show it. We keep reducing the errors, and we communicate a lot," Fernandez said. "We have a good chance to win but it'll be a tough match, because our opponents also made the final, so they're playing well."

To say Townsend and Fernandez were dominant against one of the best women's doubles teams in the world would be an understatement.

Townsend, in particular, was seemingly everywhere during the 24-minute first set. And Fernandez more than held her own.

Gauff and Pegula, who reached the final a year ago, had a lot on the line. Had they won the title, Pegula would become the No. 1 doubles player in the world for the first time.

Singles ranking to fall

Fernandez's singles ranking will drop significantly with the updated list on Monday, from No. 49 to about No. 94. She reached the singles quarterfinals in Paris a year ago and on the 52-week rolling cycle that makes up the rankings, she failed to defend those ranking points by losing in the second round.

Fernandez is already near the top 20 in doubles with the effort in Paris. If she and Townsend take the title, Fernandez would stand at No. 12.

And in the all-important doubles race to the year-end finals in Shenzhen, China, Townsend and Fernandez would rocket from No. 9 to No. 2, just five tournaments into their partnership.

The French Open champions will split nearly $850,000.

With files from The Associated Press

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