Defending Champion Fernandez Thriving Off Monterrey Energy

Leylah Fernandez (photo: Abierto GNP Seguros)

MONTERREY/WASHINGTON, March 3, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

There’s something about playing in the Abierto GNP Seguros that brings out the best in Leylah Fernandez’s game.

Whether it’s the energy of the supportive crowd that fills Centre Court of Club Sonoma cheering for the defending champion of this WTA 250 outdoor hard-court tournament, or the time of year playing in Mexico’s second-largest city of Monterrey, where she’s won nine of her last 10 matches going back to 2020. Something always seems to click for Fernandez.

Wednesday night, the 21st-ranked Fernandez from Canada overcame the big-hitting of No. 77 Zheng Qinwen of China to pull out a 6-1, 4-6, 7-6 (3) victory that stretched over two hours and 42 minutes and encompassed 215 points. As one of three former champions in this year’s Monterrey draw (the others are 2020 winner Elina Svitolina and Heather Watson, who won in 2016), Fernandez is into another hard-court quarterfinal – her fifth overall and third in Mexico – and will face either 67th-ranked Mayer Sherif of Egypt or No. 116 Wang Qiang of China on Friday.

In a featured matchup of 19-year-old rising WTA stars, it was the Montreal native who improved her win-loss record to 3-2 on the young season with her triumph against Zheng, the youngest player in the draw who was seeking her first Top 50 win. The victory represents Fernandez’s first two-match winning streak of 2022 and equals her longest winning streak since stringing together six straight victories during her remarkable run to last summer’s US Open final.

“It was definitely a great match,” said the trilingual Fernandez, speaking English during her on-court interview and bubbling with enthusiasm. (She is also fluent in French and Spanish.) “Qinwen played a great, great match. Congratulations to her and her team. Hopefully, we’ll have many more great battles like this one. I just fought for every point, stayed in it, stayed positive as much as I could, and waited for my moments. Thank goodness, everything went good in the tiebreak.”

Later in press, Fernandez said: “I’m very happy with the way I started the match. In the first set all my points came in. I was unlucky on key points in the second. In the third, I tried to be calm, watching the team – having fun – fighting every point until the end.”

Of particular interest, Fernandez, who was ranked 87th en route to her title run a year ago, raised the level of her game when facing break points on her serve. She won five of six, an 83-percent success rate. Fernandez also won her first tiebreak of the season and improved her final-set tiebreak record to 8-3.

“It was a complicated match,” Fernandez admitted. “I know Qinwen since juniors. She fights to grow within the rankings; she is a good player, good for the next generation [of WTA players].”

Fernandez is coming off a 25-17 season in 2021, in which she finished the year ranked 24th. Now, as she continues to learn the value of playing under pressure and stress, such as what she faced against Zheng when she committed three double faults, faced six break points on her serve and managed to convert just two of 12 break-point opportunities, Fernandez knows each match will continue to be a learning experience for her.

“I am happy to play a match like that,” she said.

A final thought from Fernandez perfectly sums up her attitude: “Every time I come to Mexico, the crowd is in it; the crowd is supportive of me. I’m loving the energy. They love tennis, they love sports. I just love playing in front of everybody in Mexico.”