LEXINGTON, KY, USA - Nearly six months after stunning the former US Open champion Sloane Stephens in Monterrey, Canadian qualifier Leylah Fernandez repeated the feat to send the No.7 seed out of the Top Seed Open presented by Bluegrass Orthopaedics.
17-year-old Fernandez had to come back from a set down to stun Stephens in Monterrey en route to the quarterfinals, days after reaching her first career WTA final in Acapulco. It was much more straightforward in Lexington for Fernandez, who was broken only once as she sealed the victory, 6-3, 6-3.
“It felt great being back on court,” Fernandez told wtatennis.com after the match. “Those six months were really hard mentally, not knowing when to start, how to train, how hard to train.
“I think my team and I did a good job planning and moving forward from there. And just being on court again I just had a lot of energy, I felt happier because the competition starts again. Hopefully it’ll keep going like this.”
Fernandez finished 2019 ranked No.209 in the world, but she’s quickly closing in on the Top 100 after a breakout start to the season. She began the year by qualifying for her first Grand Slam main draw at the Australian Open, then toppled World No.5 Belinda Bencic in Fed Cup qualifiers against Switzerland. From there, the Canadian teen went on to win eight of her next 10 matches in Mexico before the WTA season was brought to a pause.
She looked like she’d never been away as she grabbed an early break to take a 3-0 lead in the first set. Stephens wrestled the break back at 3-2 to close the gap, but Fernandez dialed up the pressure to break straight back. The Canadian’s lefty serve gave Stephens plenty of trouble, and she wasn’t able to recover as Fernandez closed out the opening set, 6-3.
Fernandez didn’t face a break point in the second set as she continued to force the errors off Stephens’ racquet and earn a break for a 3-1 lead. Fernandez kept the American at bay to complete the victory in straight sets, 6-3, 6-3 after an hour and 13 minutes.
“I think the first ‘come on’ that I said, it was even surprising to me because all the emotions just came back to me,” Fernandez said, reflecting on the tour’s extended pause. “The drive of winning again, and keep going and fighting for every point, it was still there. That’s what all competition is about, you know, the drive of getting the win and the thrill of competition, even the pressure - that’s what we want.”
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Fernandez will take on American wildcard Shelby Rogers in the second round, with the winner going on to face either Venus Williams or top seed Serena Williams in the quarterfinals.
“I’m just happy to be competing again. I know my next match will be a tough one, so we’ll see how it goes.”