Billie Jean King famously said pressure is a privilege. Leylah Fernandez has taken it one step further.
"Growing up I was taught that pressure and stress will be my best friend," Fernandez told WTA Insider ahead of her first tournament of the season at the Adelaide International.
The 19-year-old Canadian kicked off her 2022 campaign with a solid 6-3, 6-4 win over Russia's Ekaterina Alexandrova in the first round of Adelaide. The win sets up a potential second-round duel with No.9 Iga Swiatek.
Fernandez spoke with WTA Insider ahead of the tournament about her family-oriented off-season, her 2022 ambitions, along with how she's dealing with her ascension following a run to the US Open final last fall.
WTA Insider: How did your off-season and pre-season go?
Fernandez: Right after Indian Wells, we talked as a team and we said we need to take a few weeks off. No tennis racquet. No mention of tennis whatsoever. That was a weird transition to go from tennis tournament to let's forget about tennis. But it was a fun time.
I was able to to to take a few days off, spend my time at the beach with my family, and then visit Ecuador for my younger sister's tournament. It was an ITF 25K. That's the only time I actually touched a tennis racquet, to be her hitting partner. It was fun to watch her play and compete the same way she watched me compete at the US Open. It was so much fun cheering her on.
But I just took about three or four weeks of vacation time and came back down to Earth, spending time with my family. I was able to see my older sister get married. So that was a big step for me because just a year ago, we were talking about her wedding. She got engaged and she wanted to get married, but the pandemic was putting a stop to that. And then because our family travels so much, she doesn't want to pick a date that conflicts with a tennis tournament. So we are very lucky to have ended it a little bit sooner than usual so I could participate in her wedding.
I started the preseason beginning of November so I could work on a few things, get accustomed to the heat and city vibe in Miami.
WTA Insider: Given your 2021 success, did this pre-season feel any different?
Fernandez: It actually felt the same. I'm very lucky to have a great team around me to help me do the transition from what I did at the US Open and to kind of forget about it and just focus on the right here, right now.
We still had our meeting to see how our year went, what our objectives are for next year, what we need to work on. I just felt like any other pre-season and we worked even harder this pre-season than the last few.
WTA Insider: Speaking of those meetings with your team, what did you feel you had to work on?
Fernandez: During those meetings, I was talking with my dad and we all agreed that right now I'm still in the development stage. So we need to work on my whole game. Sharpen those tools up as much as we can so that in the next few years, I can be more and more specific with what I need to work on.
But that's in the future. Right now, we're just going to be focused on my whole game and perfect it and sharpen the tools.
WTA Insider: This time last year you were telling reporters in Abu Dhabi that you wanted to finish 2021 in the Top 10. What are your goals this season?
Fernandez: I've always had those high objectives because my parents said if you don't set the bar high, then you don't really believe in yourself. This season is still the same. I want to achieve Top 10, I want be able to play the WTA Finals at the end of the year. Obviously, I want to win a Grand Slam.
But I define success as me enjoying the sport, enjoying my time on the tennis court. As a team, we don't want to lose that happiness working together. We want to keep that smile, keep that joy for the sport and then finish the year healthy, physically, mentally and also emotionally. That's success for me.
WTA Insider: What's your relationship to the Australian swing?
Fernandez: I see it as a fun, fun way to start the year. I'm one of the lucky few to play the sport that I love and travel around the world and they just want to enjoy my time on the tennis court. Australia is such a beautiful place. I'm very, very happy to start off the year in a beautiful environment, surrounded with great people, with people who have the same love for the sport as me.
Growing up I was taught that pressure and stress will be my best friend and I'm just going to take this tournament as that, just seeing where my game is at in the first tournament of the year. We're going to see how I'm able to transition from what I did last year to this year and get ready for the Australian Open.
WTA Insider: You were voted the Canadian Press Female Athlete of the year, which was especially impressive given it was an Olympic year. I'm sure you have more off-court obligations now. How are you doing with the spotlight?
Fernandez: I'm accepting it pretty well with open arms. I know now it's part of the business of being a tennis professional and that's what I want. Growing up, I only thought being a tennis player and tennis professional, you only played tennis.
But as I was getting closer and closer to achieving my dreams of being a Top 100 and going up in the ranks, I've noticed some changes that I needed to do off court and I always try to surround myself with some good people that can help me through that transition. I'm very lucky to have my parents, my sisters, to be there to support me through the hardest moments.