The young tennis player made sure everybody will remember her after her match.
Moments after beating defending champion Naomi Osaka in three tight sets in the third round of the US Open, Leylah Fernandez was asked by Mary Joe Fernandez when she thought she started to believe she could win.
“From the very beginning, right before the match I knew I was able to win,” says the 18-year-old Canadian with Filipino roots, as the sizeable crowd in Arthur Ashe stadium roared.
“I wanted to put on a show for everybody,” she says.
And what a show it was. The lefty Fernandez didn’t waver in her resolve even as the Japanese star one took the first set 7-5. Many of the rallies were long and hard-fought, with the younger player crouching low to return the former world number one’s booming shot with interest.
Osaka, who sat out Wimbledon as part of a mental health break, was actually serving for the match at 6-5 in the second set. But the set was taken to a tiebreak after her forehand splayed wide.
In the breaker, it was all Fernandez, who won it 7-2 after a couple of uncharacteristic racket throws from Osaka and another costly forehand error.
The younger player rode on the wave of that momentum into the deciding set where she held on to a break advantage. She was fearless and feeling the electricity in the air, pumping her fist and egging those in attendance to cheer some more.
“It made a huge difference,” Fernandez says of the Flushing Meadows crowd. “Thanks to New York, to New York friends over here. They helped me get the win.”
At 30-0, she hit a dropshot that Osaka didn’t even attempt at getting to. Fernandez’s win was sealed in the next point when her opponent hit another forehand wide.
“Honestly, I wasn’t focusing on Naomi. I was only focusing on myself and what I needed to do,” she says.
Ready for battle
Born in Montreal to Jorge, an Ecuadorean pro footballer, and Irene Exevea, a Canadian with Filipino roots, Fernandez now considers the tennis-crazy state of Florida as her base.
She did well for herself in the junior tour, and made it to the Australian Open Girls Singles Final in 2019. In Roland Garros later that year, she became the first Canadian woman after Eugenie Bouchard to win a junior grand slam title.
She made her senior grand slam debut at the 2020 Australian Open just before COVID-19 exploded all over the world. While Osaka is the biggest scalp in her tennis ledger, Fernandez has also scored wins over Olympic champion Belinda Bencic and former US Open champion Sloane Stephens.
Before her third round clash with Osaka, Fernandez took out Ana Konjuh of Croatia in her opening match followed by a 7-5 7-5 over six time grandslam quarter finalist Kaia Kanepi of Estonia.
Up next for the 18-year-old, who can speak English, French, and Spanish, is a round of 16 date with another former world number one and champion in New York: Angelique Kerber.
“It will be a battle. We’re just going to have fun, and I’m going to put on a show like what we did tonight,” Fernandez says. We’re counting on it.
Banner Photo from @usopen on IG