Leylah Fernandez: “I’m not surprised of anything that’s happening right now”
Leylah Fernandez is on a roll in New York, displaying an incredible level of play under pressure
2021 US Open, QF | Fernandez – Svitolina  | Ashe-Stadium, Tue. 1:30 pm approx.
Leylah Fernandez found a stunning way to celebrate her last day as an 18-year-old. The Canadian, who had beaten the defending champion Naomi Osaka in the third round, went on to beat Angelique Kerber 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-2 to qualify for her first Grand Slam quarter-final. Before thinking about her next opponent, Elina Svitolina, Fernandez will have a bit of time to enjoy both her 19th birthday and another incredible performance.
“The match was incredible. I was playing well in the first set, but unfortunately, I did a few mistakes,” she said. “As a great player, great champion, she noticed and she took advantage of it. I was able to refocus and fight back for the second. In the third, I was just enjoying every moment of it. Honestly, the crowd has been amazing, so thanks to them I was able to win.”
Fernandez has also been rewarded for all the hours she and her team have spent watching Kerber’s matches. A very smart move: they’re both lefties, have the same athleticism, and are natural shot makers. “We have definitely watched her play a lot, especially used her as an example, also with the way she used her slice out wide and then go down the line right away on the open court, that she’s definitely been an example for us. I tried to do that against her. I was glad that it worked. She’s an incredible fighter, an incredible player. I was just putting one more ball back in, fighting, and just having fun on the court.”
“I expected that one day my tennis game is going to come through and that I’m going to be on the big stage”
Zoning on that court, hitting 45 winners, pushed by a crowd that doesn’t like a lot of things more than discovering a new prodigy of the game, Fernandez put on another show. She’s obviously a player who enjoys playing on the biggest stages against the biggest players.
“I have been working hard every day since the day I started playing tennis and since the day I set my mind to being a professional. I expected that one day my tennis game is going to come through and that I’m going to be on the big stage in front of a big crowd playing against big players and also getting the wins. I’m not surprised of anything that’s happening right now. I’m just glad that it’s happening now and not later in the year, but we are just going to enjoy this time and take this one day at a time. It’s just a moment of time, opportunity, and I’m glad that I was able to get this opportunity now and that I was able to showcase what I can do in front of these players.”
Kerber was as astonished as the crowd by the performance of her rival and had a very classy reaction right after the match point when she crossed the net to congratulate her. The German has enough experience to know when something incredible has happened on a court. Something she had no chance to stop.
“If she plays like this consistently, I think she has a great future”
“It was a tough one. I gave everything I had. She played an unbelievable match, especially in the third set. Also one of the best matches in her career. She had nothing to lose and went out there, really is going for her winners, and at the end, it was just two or three points which decide the match but she took it in her hands. If she plays like this consistently, I think she has a great future. She has a lot of power in her forehand and she’s going for her winners.”
What has been so obvious while watching Fernandez play since the start of the tournament is the joy she has on the court. She’s nearly looking like rejoicing in the high pressure. And it’s very impressive to see, and very scary for her opponents. Here comes someone who has no fear and no doubts. It’s not even like Fernandez is in a state of grace where everything she tries is a success without her knowing exactly how and why. No, absolutely not: she knows exactly what she’s doing and she’s showing a lot of maturity on and off the court. She’s here to win, she’s here to battle, she’s here to make it but most importantly she’s here to have fun.
“I never really take things too seriously or some things too hard”
“I’m just a happy-go-lucky girl. I never really take things too seriously or some things too hard. But I’m just having fun with anything and everything that I do. You know, during the past year with all the difficulties around the world, I was lucky enough to have my family, my sisters, they were amazing and super supportive. Every time I’m feeling down, they were always there to bring me back up. My younger sister makes me laugh all the time, so she’s the one that helped me getting, being the person that I am today, being so happy, being so carefree.
“I think sometimes the way that my parents would teach me off-court, saying that you can’t take things too seriously, you’ve got to be mature but at the same time just be a kid, let loose, have fun, eat chocolate when you want to, and just have fun, watch movies, go past your bedtime. But just the support of my family and of my sisters: they have definitely kept the joy for me.”
Of course, we’ve been there before and we know that this mindset often doesn’t last at the highest level when suddenly everybody wants to beat you, everybody watches you and everybody is expecting you to win. But for now, Fernandez is flying high, not having a care in the world about the various traps of professional sports: may it last as long as possible.