Leylah Fernandez's father Jorge will not be at Saturday's US Open final cheering on his daughter in the biggest match of her young career. He learned his lesson the hard way, and after years of helping his daughter achieve her ultimate dreams, there's no way he's getting in the way now.
"Yes, I'm extremely superstitious," Jorge told reporters on the eve of the US Open final. "My daughter is as well.
"It's working, so let's not ruin it. The last time I showed up to a finals it was Acapulco and she lost it. I was hating myself for a good two months afterwards. I didn't really want to talk about it. I didn't want to talk to anybody.
"They say, C'mon, it's just a game, she made it to the finals, right? C'mon. But inside me it's like, No, I shouldn't have shown up, I shouldn't have been there."
Athletes are notoriously superstitious and Jorge, who is Ecuadorian and played professional soccer in South America, is no different. Whether it's using the same shampoo or wearing the same jeans on game day, Jorge is doing everything in his power not to disrupt the state of the universe, one that has seen his 19-year-old daughter pull off one of the most remarkable runs, beating three Top 5 players, to advance to her maiden major final.
"It's really about superstition," Jorge said. "She knows that I'm supporting her from afar. I've mentioned in the past I'm in her heart and she's in mine. When all of this is done, everybody who's seen it from the stadium? Fantastic.
"But I'm going to look at her right across the kitchen table when we're going to have dinner and we're going to be okay."
Jorge has been Leylah's primary coach from the start of her career right through this fortnight, where he has been preparing the intelligent tactical game plans that Leylah has executed flawlessly under pressure. Jorge credits his daughter's uncanny poise to her deep research on the greats of the game.
Leylah doesn't just watch hot shot highlight reels of her favorite players, like Justine Henin or Rafael Nadal. She wants entire matches, from first point to last point, to see how the legends of the game cope with the swinging momentum shifts that come throughout a match. En route to the final, she has stood tall in the third and final sets to earn wins over Naomi Osaka, Angelique Kerber, Elina Svitolina, and Aryna Sabalenka.
"She's able to do what she's doing because she's watched it so much. Although she hasn't lived it, she has watched it.
"She's kind of acting with the same poise that past champions have done, like Henin, like Graf, Borg, even McEnroe. Watch that lefty serve. After he's done being a little bit rambunctious, there's a moment of clarity that happens.
"I think she's just learned from past champions on how they recuperate and keep their poise. That's what we're seeing, even though she doesn't have her own personal experience."
Saturday's final will feature two players of Asian descent in a major final, a first for the sport. Leylah's mother is Filipina-Canadian, while Emma Raducanu's mother is Chinese. The
"I truly appreciate the Filipino community backing up Leylah," Jorge said. "She's got Filipino blood in her. It's so beautiful. I'm glad that they've embraced her. I hope that relationship can only grow between her and her community.
"I see [Emma and Leylah] both bringing a type of game that is not common right now on the circuit. It's not as common as we think it is. I see that they bring a flair that is very unique for them. I'm glad that they're touching the Asian community.
Putting on his coaching hat, Jorge acknowledged a big challenge for Saturday would be ensuring Leylah does not have a letdown. She has defeated three Top 5 players and a former No.1 and 2016 champion. Her two unseeded opponents in New York were Ana Konjuh and Kaia Kanepi, both former major quarterfinalists. Now, standing in the way of the US Open title is No.150 Raducanu, a junior contemporary, who is playing in her first tour-level final in just her second Slam appearance.
"The difficulty is that," Jorge said. "How do you adjust from playing all these higher-ranked and bigger names that you've seen on TV? It's very easy to get motivated for that, right?
"The motivating factor, I know this might sound silly, but it's a finals, all right? Let's leave it all on the table. Let's sweat it all out. Let's make sure that no matter how it finishes, there are no regrets because we won't get another crack at this again, if we're fantastic, for another year. You know how difficult it is to make a finals in a Grand Slam two years in a row, the same one. It's a very difficult thing."
Focusing on the ranking or accomplishments of an opponent would be unacceptable to Jorge.
"For me, that's a very junior mentality," he said. "Emma made the finals because she earned her right to be in the finals. Nobody gave it to her, right? What she did was absolutely fantastic, as well. I mean, c'mon, Sakkari? This is not just a regular player.
"If you focus on the fact that it's a finals, you're playing another warrior in front of you, I don't think the age, who it is or the ranking should even matter."
Regardless of Saturday's result, the 2021 US Open final will be a watershed moment. It will be just the eighth all-teenage final at the US Open and the first since Serena Williams defeated Martina Hingis in 1999. For the first time, a Slam singles final will feature two women of Asian descent, both born in 2002, bidding to become the next torchbearer for the youth movement on the WTA Tour.
After Bianca Andreescu's 2019 US Open win and Iga Swiatek's 2020 Roland Garros win, this will be the third straight season a WTA teenager will be crowned a major champion.
"I think that's a huge opportunity in the women's game just to be able to expand and have a new style. Like tomorrow's matchup is 2002, that's [the year they were born]. You might as well call it the 2002 US Open final. It's silly."
"I think it's just positive for the game," Jorge said. "Obviously I want Leylah to win. That goes without saying. But I just think that the matchup and what we're seeing, those two ladies are touching a lot of young girls. I'm getting messages about, you know, Please pass this to Leylah, little girls saying, You're making us believe. This can only be good for the tennis game and the WTA altogether."