Believing in herself is “natural” for Fernandez: “From a very young age, I knew I was able to beat anyone”

Leylah Fernandez kept believing she was going to beat Naomi Osaka, and she did just that in spectacular fashion on Friday

Leylah Annie Fernandez of Canada celebrates.

Maybe she won’t go all Melanie Oudin and write “Believe” on her shoes. But Leylah Fernandez was big on the self-belief during her incredible win against Naomi Osaka on Friday night. It’s actually one of the Canadian’s trademarks: she’s so poised, she’s such a competitor despite having still little experience at this level. With a super solid game and a very efficient defense, that’s the type of mental skill that can send a player on a high.

Down a set and a break, Fernandez focused on what mattered for her: the inner knowledge that she could do anything if she was fighting hard enough for it.

“I was telling myself to stay positive, keep fighting. I’m there, I’m close. In the second set, on the very last game, I found the solution to the problem of returning her serve. I’m glad that I found it. From then on I was just fighting, using the crowd’s energy, putting the ball back in as much as I can, just be offensive and go for my shots.

“Even a break down in the second set, or even in the first set I still believed. I still told myself that I’m closer and closer to finding a solution, that I will get that break opportunity, I will have that moment in hand. I’m just glad that I had it and I took it and ran away with it.”

Fernandez: “I was just glad that I was able to put on a show for everyone”

Leylah Fernandez had been struggling a bit since she won her first title in Monterrey in March, but she kept being well aware of what were her long term goals and what type of work she was still needed to get there. The young Canadian didn’t panic or get frustrated. She knew her time was going to come back at some point.

“The past few months, even after Monterrey, I’ve been working hard, training super well. My coach, my dad, is saying be patient, have confidence in your game, it will show in matches. I’m glad it finally did.

“I wasn’t really focused on Naomi. I was only focused on myself, my game, what I needed to do. Having the crowd there supporting me and backing me up after every point, it’s amazing. It gave me the energy to keep fighting, to keep working, and to keep running for those balls that she hit. I was just glad that I was able to put on a show for everyone that came to watch.”

“Even playing different sports, I was always that competitive, saying I’m going to win against them”

So one does wonder: how do you learn this type of belief? The belief that makes you walk on one of the biggest courts in the world to face one of the biggest stars of the game and think you’re gonna win. Even when you’re a set down and the opponent is serving for the match? For Fernandez, the answer is easy: she can’t remember a day in her life where she hasn’t competed for something deemed impossible to get.

“Just a natural belief. From a very young age, I knew I was able to beat anyone, anyone who is in front of me. Even playing different sports, I was always that competitive, saying I’m going to win against them, I’m going to win against my dad in soccer, even though that’s impossible. I’ve always had that belief. I’ve always, like, tried to use that in every match that I go on. I guess today that belief came true.

© Jerry Lai / AI / REUTERS / PANORAMIC

“I’ve watched Naomi win the US Open, her first US Open. I watched her win the Australian Open the very next year. Just seeing her and learning from her game has helped me shape who I am right now. She’s a great example for anybody that’s on tour and all the little girls in the world. I’m just glad that I had the opportunity to play against her tonight and to show everyone that I’m also able to compete against the best players up there.”

Fernandez actually showed what’s lacking those days in Osaka: swinging freely, being happy to be out there, being able to just think about the next point and not the stakes. Easier, also, when you’re basically just starting to discover these heights of the game. Still, what a temper!

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