ACAPULCO, Mexico -- The breakthrough week of 17-year-old Leylah Fernandez will extend all the way to the last day of the Abierto Mexicano Telcel presentado por HSBC, after the Canadian defeated homeland hope Renata Zarazua, 6-3, 6-3, to advance to her first WTA singles final.
"It wasn’t easy today," Fernandez told the media, after her victory. "I’m happy that I fought and did my best to get the win."
Both qualifier Fernandez and 22-year-old wildcard Zarazua had a milestone event in Acapulco, as they each notched their first WTA quarterfinal and semifinal of their careers. But it was Fernandez who put an end to the Mexican’s historic run on home soil, as the teenager ousted Zarazua after 87 minutes of play on Friday night.
World No.190 Fernandez becomes the first Canadian to reach the women's singles final at Acapulco, after defeating 270th-ranked Zarazua, the first Mexican WTA singles semifinalist since 1993. Fernandez, last year's Roland Garros junior singles champion, won 60 percent of points returning her opponent's serve on the day, breaking Zarazua six times overall.
"I honestly took the energy from the crowd," said Fernandez. "I love how loud it is, and how emotional they are, and that helped me too -- even though they cheered for Renata most of the time! It helped me, and that made me stay focused a lot more."
"I knew the crowd wasn’t going to be for me, but I was so happy that they came and were supportive," Fernandez continued. "They were amazing and they were respectful, and hopefully they’ll be there tomorrow, but instead of cheering against me, for me!"
Now into her first WTA final, Fernandez will take on No.7 seed Heather Watson of Great Britain. In the earlier semifinal, Watson beat another teenager who made it through qualifying, 18-year-old Wang Xiyu of China, as the British No.2 continues her quest for her fourth WTA singles title.
"I played against [Watson] last year a few times," said Fernandez, who lost two matches to Watson in Canada last summer. "I know she’s a very aggressive player and that she’s a tough competitor, and I’m excited to play against her in a final. I’ll just go out there and fight and work for every ball."
Four consecutive breaks opened the clash before both players were able to hold serve en route to 3-3. At this juncture, the power game of Fernandez started to appear in full effect, as she knocked off an overhead to close out an all-court rally and hold for 4-3.
The Canadian then earned a pivotal service break in the following game, after Zarazua hit two straight double faults from deuce. Now up 5-3 and serving for the set, Fernandez saved a break point with a rally forehand, then converted her second set point in the game once Zarazua sent a service return long.
The momentum stayed with Fernandez as the second set got underway. After matching service holds to reach 1-1, the Canadian broke Zarazua twice in succession to open up a commanding 4-1 lead. Fernandez would go on to hold serve for 5-1, putting herself within a game from her maiden WTA final.
Still, the Mexican heroine was determined to keep her run on home soil going. After a hold for 5-2, Zarazua thrilled the crowd with a thundering overhead to earn break point in the next game, where Fernandez was serving for victory. Zarazua then clawed the break back after a Fernandez forehand flew long, and the match continued.
However, two errors and a double fault by Zarazua in the subsequent game swiftly turned the tail end of the set back in the Canadian’s favor, queuing up two match points for Fernandez. On the first, Zarazua hit her sixth double fault, ceding the win to the elated teenager.