After a hard-fought run in the U.S. Open, finalist Leylah Fernandez reflected on her time up until that point and how it “meant the world” to her.
The Journey: On Monday, Leylah, 19, joined the “Today” show to talk about how her tennis journey to the finals impacted her family and why she will continue to fight for her dreams.
- “Being on the court that day meant the world to me,” she said. “I remember a little girl growing up, wanting to be on Arthur Ashe, playing a finals, wanting to put on a show for everybody—for the fans.”
- “Canada has been so kind to us, they opened their doors for us, they gave us opportunities for my [family],” she continued. “[My family] did everything in their power so that me and my sisters and my cousins can have a great life, to keep going, keep fighting and keep having that smile on our faces.”
- The Filipino Canadian and Ecuadorian teen’s mother, Irene Exevea, could be seen beaming from the sidelines of her matches. For three years, Exevea was the family’s main provider and worked a job in California to support them and Leylah’s sports career. She only saw her children two times a year, according to BBC.
- Leylah’s father and head coach, Jorge Fernandez, dedicated himself to guiding her full-time since Tennis Quebec’s development program dropped her when she was 7. He learned how to be a tennis coach despite his little knowledge of the sport at the time. He stayed home during her matches because he was “extremely superstitious” that his attendance would ruin her results, according to Forbes.
- Jorge emphasized the same message on what it meant to represent Canada as an immigrant family to TSN in a tearful interview. “We had nothing,” he said. “Canada opened up its doors…I wouldn’t have had the opportunities that I have and I wouldn’t have been able to give them to my daughter. So, it means a lot.”
Teen Titans: On Sept. 11, Leylah faced off against Emma Raducanu, 18, in New York’s Arthur Ashe Stadium where she ended up with a final score of 4-6 and 3-6, which was in Raducanu’s favor.
- To get to the finals, Fernandez blazed past Ukraine’s No. 5 seed Elina Svitolina, the former year’s U.S. Open champion Naomi Osaka, three-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber and world No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus.
- This marked her first entrance into the finals of a major tennis tournament, as her track record before had her reaching only the third round.
- “I was only thinking of trusting myself, trusting my game. After every point, win or lose, I would always tell myself, ‘Trust my game. Go for my shots. Just see where the ball goes,’” she said according to the AP News.
- In 2020, Leylah held a Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) singles ranking of 88. As of Monday, Leylah currently holds a career-high ranking of 28.
- After the finals, she left a message to New York City as it entered the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. “I hope I can be as strong and as resilient as New York has been the past 20 years,” she said.
- She hopes to return to the Empire State with “the right trophy.”
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