Leylah Fernandez is only 19 years old, yet already understands she will forever be linked to Emma Raducanu and the wildly improbable events of last year’s US Open. Hard to believe, but it’s been only seven months since that all-teenage final. In some ways, it feels like a lot more.
“You are not wrong,” Fernandez said Monday from South Carolina, where she’s playing the Credit One Charleston Open. “It does feel like it was years ago. But I’ve always tried to leave the past results in the past and stay focused on the present.”
This is not only a wise philosophy – it’s a good career move, too. Tennis history is rife with young players who broke through at a major – and never managed to fulfill that promise, fell short of great expectations. If the first three months of 2022 are any indication, Fernandez is living large in the present.
After dropping two of three matches in Australia, the rising Canadian won her first Hologic WTA Tour title of the season in Monterrey, Mexico in early March. And although she never faced a Top 40 player, she won all five matches and displayed a poise and consistency that sometimes eludes teenagers. She even saved five championship points in the final.
“It was a fun week,” Fernandez said. “A good start to the season. Just need to keep improving, keep going up and enjoy my time on the tennis court.”
She’s sitting at No.19 in rankings, matching her career best. The offseason focus was on creating a more complete athlete, building both physical and mental fitness.
“Emotionally, tennis is very hard because you’re on your own on the tennis court,” Fernandez said. “And it’s hard to maybe fight your emotions in some important moments and points. So we’ve always tried to improve and perfect our own routines so that when an important point comes, I’m not in the mental state where I’m in a desperate situation, just hoping that something goes right instead of planning and executing the game plan.”
During the past year, mental health has become an increasingly recognized as an important component to success. Iga Swiatek has been open in describing the contributions made by sports psychologist Daria Abramowicz in her rise to No.1. Fernandez said she draws strength from family – her father Jorge (also coach), mother Irene, sisters Jodeci and Bianca as well as her aunts.
“They definitely helped me to be strong in the difficult moments,” Fernandez said, particularly citing her parents. “Also how to recuperate after I make a mistake or after I lose a match. If I get down on myself too fast, too much, just to bounce back as soon as possible.”
That’s precisely where she finds herself at the moment. Fernandez lost her first match at the Miami Open, to Karolina Muchova – her last WTA hard-court match for some time. As it turns out, that’s where her training currently is based. After a few days of visiting with Jodeci, she and her team turned to the tricky transition to clay.
The secret sauce of that preparation? Yoga.
“The difficulty is that clay is very slippery,” Fernandez said. “So all of your muscles, your ligaments get stretched out a lot in contrast to a hard court. So we did a lot of stretching, a lot of yoga so that my groin, the muscles in my legs, can be prepared for what’s coming.”
And there’s also an adjustment to the clay-court mindset, i.e. the concept of patience – another concept sometimes lost on the young.
“On a hard court, everything goes faster,” she said. “On a clay court, the balls keep coming back. So you have to hit a few more good shots, a few more winners so that you can win the point. We trained a few hours on clay every day, trying to get used to it.”
She arrived in Charleston on Saturday and marveled at the condition of the courts, the new stadium and players’ lounge. Fernandez, the No.7 seed, faces Magda Linette, who squeezed by Katie Volynets in a third-set-tiebreak. Fernandez’s schedule for the rest of the clay season: Madrid, Rome and the French Open. Last year’s goal was to get as close to a Top 10 ranking as possible. This year, she said, she wants to break into the Top 10.
She has the game and support to meet that goal.
“Since the US Open, life has changed just a little bit,” Fernandez said. “But I have a great team around me, who are able to manage that side of the business. They let me focus on my profession, because tennis is my No.1 focus.”