Fernandez’s Elan For Tennis Goes Well Beyond Her Years

WASHINGTON, August 22, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

Leylah Fernandez of Canada had her eye on her third WTA quarterfinal of the season last week at the Top Seed Open in Lexington, Ky., when she faced 116th-ranked American Shelby Rogers in a second-round match. The 5-foot-4-inch left-handed Fernandez, who was ranked 120th at the time, was already playing in her fourth match of the tournament. She had earned a main draw berth after twice winning in qualifying, then won for the second time this year against Sloane Stephens in the tournament’s first round.

Although the 17-year-old Canadian didn’t play up to her expectations against Rogers – losing 6-2, 7-5 to a player 10 years older than her – Fernandez showed great poise and professionalism on the Kentucky hard court, a couple of traits that have served her well since moving into the professional ranks following a successful junior career that culminated in winning the 2019 French Open girls’ singles title. And, Fernandez shows the same positive traits off the court, too.

After she had time to reflect on her match afterward while speaking to reporters via Zoom, including Tennis TourTalk, Fernandez, who shows a lot of energy and isn’t afraid to take risks on the court, was honest in self-criticizing her performance. “I didn’t play well. I made too many mistakes and I think I gave (Shelby) some confidence moving forward,” she said. “She played a great game. I just didn’t do enough.” 

Asked if she felt disappointment or sadness after losing to Rogers, Fernandez paused and smiled as she thought about the question. Then she replied, “A little of both. A little frustration, obviously, I knew I had the opportunities at my hand and just let it slip away.” 

When Fernandez was asked by Tennis TourTalk if there were positives to take away as she readied herself to head for New York, she said: “Yes, of course, there’s always positives. This week, I was able to play matches and see where my level is at, what I need to improve. Obviously, I have a lot to improve for the next two tournaments.”

Born in Montreal, Quebec, of Ecuadorian and Filipino descent – and fluent in English, French and Spanish – Fernandez took up tennis when her father, a former soccer player, gave her a racquet at age 5 and started coaching her. As she’s grown older, her appreciation of the sport has grown. She enjoys studying film of legendary players like Serena Williams and Roger Federer, ones who aren’t afraid to take risks – going to the net, hitting drop shots. “My father wanted that for my game and I’ve continued that trend rather than staying at the back and returning the ball,” she said. Among left-handers, Fernandez counts current and former stars, Rafael Nadal and Marcelo Rios, among her all-time favorites.

When she’s not on the tennis court, Fernandez enjoys solving puzzles and she brings a Rubik’s Cube with her that’s handy during rain delays. Her hobbies include dancing – she’s learning how to dance the salsa – and when it comes to music, Fernandez’s tastes lean toward Journey and Bon Jovi, a couple of popular North American rock groups that pre-date her birth.

Fernandez arrived in New York from Lexington with an improved ranking – she’s now ranked 111th – and trying to reach the main draw at the Western & Southern Open. She won her opening match in qualifying Thursday by upsetting the second seed, Russia’s Anna Blinkova, 6-1, 6-4. Fernandez won 70 percent of her first serves, converting four of seven break points and winning 49 percent of her return opportunities. She outpointed Blinkova 57-44. Then, she outpointed 24th seed Kristie Ahn of the United States 70-50 on Friday and won easily, 6-4, 6-1, to earn a berth in the 56-player main draw, the first WTA Premier main draw of her young professional career. The victory improved her 2020 win-loss record in all competitions to 17-6.

Fernandez, who is the lone Canadian in the Western & Southern Open women’s singles draw, will face 39th-ranked Ons Jabeur of Tunisia in the first round on Sunday.

“I’m excited to be able to play tournaments,” said Fernandez, who made her Grand Slam debut at the Australian Open and also represented Canada in the Fed Cup earlier this year against Switzerland.

Since the beginning of the year, I’ve set a goal to be in the Top 100 of the WTA by the end of the year – and I’m still looking for it. Hopefully, maybe the Top 60 if I’m able to play enough tournaments.”

Main draw for Western & Southern Open set

No. 1 seed Jil Teichmann of Switzerland, who was a finalist at last week’s Top Seed Open in Kentucky, is one of seven seeds from the women’s singles qualifying tournament to advance to the main draw in the Western & Southern Open. The 54th-ranked Teichmann defeated 22nd seed Shelby Rogers of the United States, 6-3, 6-4. Fifth seed Laura Siegemund of Germany also advanced with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Caroline Dolehide of the United States. Twelve players advanced overall into the 56-player main draw, which begins play Saturday.

Meanwhile, on the men’s side, No. 1 seed Gilles Simon was knocked out by No. 224 Sebastian Korda of the United States, 3-6, 6-0, 6-1. Five seeds advanced to the main draw.

Welcome to the bubble

A few moments with Serena Williams

During a Zoom video conference Friday before the start of the Western & Southern Open, 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams confirmed she’s staying in a private house for the New York doubleheader (Western & Southern Open and US Open). Arriving wearing a mask and goggles, Williams suggested she would feel less safe being in a hotel that’s full of others – especially considering her past lung issues. Williams is one of eight players staying in a private house, confirmed by the USTA.

Said Williams: “I have health issues and I don’t necessary want to get sick, and if I do, I want the good version. So I have been doing extra vitamins. So if something happens, at least I will have the good strain, I guess, of the virus.”

ATP Tour: It’s all about perspective

What they’re writing

Christopher Clarey, The New York Times tennis correspondent, from “Tennis’ Most Ambitious Doubleheader in Years is Underway”:

When the Western & Southern Open begins in the northeasterly location of Queens on Saturday, it will be the first part of the most significant tennis doubleheader since the 2012 Wimbledon tournament and the Olympic tennis competition were played on the same well-tended grass courts of the All England Club.

But that doubleheader was a long-planned occasion, more than seven years in the making.

This one in New York was devised under duress, with the coronavirus pandemic forcing American tennis officials to find unconventional solutions to bring tour events back to the United States.

Happy Birthday, Mats Wilander 

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