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Jorge Fernandez: “Leylah has learned from watching Henin and Graf”

The 19-year-old Canadian got her poise by watching some of the great players of the past, her father says

Leylah Fernandez (Panoramic) Leylah Fernandez (Panoramic)

Of all the ways in which Leylah Fernandez has impressed on her way to the final of the US Open, one thing has stood out above all others. Her poise.

It turns out, she learned from the best.

I’ve always described Leylah as having an extremely mature game,” her father, Jorge Fernandez told reporters at Flushing Meadows on Friday.”It’s something that you expect out of a 28-year-old, not out of a 16-year-old, 15-year-old.

Leylah Fernandez
Leylah Fernandez – Imago / Panoramic

“I watched her win the U16 Nationals when she was 12. She was obviously playing with players that were much bigger, much more experienced, much stronger than she was. I remember just watching her coming to the net, volleying, right? She would just turn around and little fist pump, just walk away like as if it’s something completely normal, like she’s been doing it for many, many years.

“I think that poise has come from her watching a lot of tennis, watching some of the big names, the YouTube clips, watching the matches. She’s constantly analysing what happened at this time, what happened when this happened. She’s a great student of the game. I think that brings that poise that we see in her, able to do what she’s doing because she’s watched it so much. Although she hasn’t lived it, she has watched it.

“She’s kind of acting with the same poise that past champions have done, like (Justine) Henin, like (Steffi) Graf, right? Like (Bjorn) Borg, right? Even (John) McEnroe, right? Watch that lefty serve. After he’s done being a little bit rambunctious, there’s a moment of clarity that happens.I think she’s just learned from past champions on how they recuperate and keep their poise. That’s what we’re seeing, even though she doesn’t have her own personal experience.”

Justine Hénin lors de la finale
Justine Henin

Jorge has watched – and coached – his daughter from afar, staying well clear of New York as he tries to avoid breaking what is a very strong superstition.

And having seen his daughter thrive in his absence, there is no danger he is about to change.

“No, I am not going to be there tomorrow,” he said. Yes, I’m extremely superstitious. My daughter is as well. Look, I’ve been using the same shampoo on game day, kind of using the same jeans on game day, I think the same socks and underwear. It’s taken to a completely different level.

“It’s always been that way. It’s nothing new. You do your shoelaces a certain way, you do this a certain way. Leylah and I have always kind of, when we figured out what’s working, we don’t mess with it. That’s to a fault, right? Because sometimes you end up messing about with things that you shouldn’t mess about with. It’s working, so let’s not ruin it.

“The last time I showed up to a finals it was Acapulco when she made it to the finals and she lost it. I was hating myself for a good two months afterwards. I didn’t really want to talk about it. I didn’t want to talk to anybody.

“She knows that I’m supporting her from afar. I’ve mentioned in the past I’m in her heart and she’s in mine. When all of this is done, everybody who’s seen it from the stadium, fantastic. But I’m going to look at her right across the kitchen table when we’re going to have dinner and we’re going to be OK.”

Naomi Osaka and Leylah Fernandez © Jerry Lai / AI / REUTERS / PANORAMIC

Fernandez has reached the final thanks to some stunning wins, over Naomi Osaka, Angelique Kerber, Elina Svitolina and Aryna Sabalenka. As he tries to prepare his daughter for the big one, the challenge now is to deal with a player, in Raducanu, that by ranking at least, she is expected to beat.

“I think that tomorrow we really have to focus from the motivation side of things,” he said. “We really have to focus on what the event is, right? It is a finals. Let’s just focus on what we need to do. The motivating factor, I know this might sound silly, but it’s a finals, all right? Let’s leave it all on the table. Let’s sweat it all out. Let’s make sure that no matter how it finishes, there are no regrets because we won’t get another crack at this again, if we’re fantastic, for another year. You know how difficult it is to make a finals in a Grand Slam two years in a row, the same one. It’s a very difficult thing.

“I think the message really will be to focus on the fact that it’s a finals, focus on herself. Focus on the match plan. I’ve yet to finalise any little details to the match plan. But so far she’s been following the match plan very well. In key moments she’s been executing very well.”

“Emma made the finals because she earned her right to be in the finals. Nobody gave it to her, right? What she did was absolutely fantastic, as well. I mean, c’mon, (Maria) Sakkari (whom she beat in the semi-finals), this is not just a regular player.

“If you focus on the fact that it’s a finals, you’re playing another warrior in front of you, I don’t think the age, who it is or the ranking should even matter.”

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