What is teenager Leylah Fernandez’s biggest challenge as she shoots to the top in the tennis world?
It is said that Fernandez did not list Naomi Osaka or Angelique Kerber or any other top player when she was asked that question at the start of the US Open. Instead, she listed the things she has had to give up as she pursues a tennis career.
“I do not have a normal teenage life to go to school, make friends or to party or graduation,” Fernandez said in an interview on the WTA website. “Those are the things you see in movies and you think, oh, I want to go through that and see what it’s like.
“But I made a decision about that [going] pro was my No. 1 thing and I made the necessary sacrifices to keep training and just try to improve myself every day. ”
These sacrifices have paid off this week with an absolutely magical race in the last major of the year.
Two days after knocking No. 3 Osaka out of the tournament, she came big again against a multiple Grand Slam champion. Fernandez gathered from a set to defeat No. 16 Kerber, 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-2, Sunday and advance to the quarterfinals of the US Open.
Fernandez, who turns 19 on Monday, will play Tokyo bronze medalist and No. 5 seed Elina Svitolina on Tuesday for a semifinal spot. Svitolina is the second highest ranked player left in the competition after the exits from world number one Ashleigh Barty and third seed Osaka.
Tennis major and ESPN commentator Chris Evert is a believer after watching Fernandez survive Kerber.
“I did not see this coming,” she said. “” I saw the Naomi Osaka match coming, but when I saw her play Angelique Kerber, I did not think she could copy that standard of tennis. . . “This is her tournament. This is a Cinderella story for her.”
The 73rd-ranked Fernandez is not just a young player having an adventurous tournament.
She is one of three 18-year-olds still alive. Emma Raducanu of Great Britain, who plays Monday in a match in the fourth round, and Spanish Carlos Alcaraz, a winner of five sets over Peter Gojowczyk on Sunday, are in the quarter-finals.
“Getting so many young players to get through is just really good for the game, because it just shows how strong this next generation is,” said Raducanu, who then plays American Shelby Rogers. “After having so many young players, I think we all inspire each other to play better.”
There was certainly something inspiring in the way Fernandez fought back to beat Kerber.
Just as she did against Osaka at Arthur Ashe Stadium two days earlier, Fernandez dropped the opening set and found herself behind in the second. This time, Kerber was on a 4-2 break when Fernandez came back to force a tiebreaker before winning the set. Kerber’s energy seemed to fade in the third, and the teenager took charge of the fight.
“Yeah, I think she also played one of her best games of her career and she had nothing to lose,” Kerber said. “I think in the end it was only two, three points that decided the match. She took it in her hands.”
Fernandez actually has nothing to lose. She has come further than anyone – except herself – expected her to. And at this point, it seems like nobody’s having fun on the court.
Yes, there are times when she wonders what it would be like to be a regular teenager. But right now they are few and far between.
“I had to pinch myself a little bit to see that it actually happened,” Fernandez said when asked how she felt about beating two big players in a row. “… I chose this profession and I want to enjoy it as much as possible.”
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