Lower than per week in the past, few informal tennis followers knew even a bit of, if something, about Leylah Fernandez. When she surprised Naomi Osaka within the third spherical of the U.S. Open, many have been extra targeted on the participant who misplaced than on the participant who gained.
Those self same folks questioned if the precocious teenager from Canada had benefited from Osaka’s poor form that night time.
However after storming again to beat the extra reliable and in-form Angelique Kerber within the fourth spherical on Sunday, Fernandez — along with her pure exuberance, ubiquitous smile and fist raised excessive within the air — has change into the feeling of the this 12 months’s Open.
“I feel she will be able to go actually far within the subsequent few years,” Kerber mentioned after the match.
There’s a likelihood she might go actually far in simply the following few days. Fernandez is enjoying the most effective tennis of her younger profession, blasting forehand winners and exuding the sort of joyous preventing spirit and confidence that has captivated New York followers throughout a wild three-day run.
With a raucous crowd packed into Louis Armstrong Stadium chanting her title, Fernandez misplaced the primary set on Sunday and was down a service break within the second earlier than she outlasted Kerber, 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-2, lower than 12 hours earlier than turning 19.
She was delighted. She was proud. She raised her arms within the air and flashed her magnetic smile. However don’t suppose that she is shocked by her personal success, even when the remainder of the tennis world is.
“I anticipated that at some point my tennis sport goes to come back by and that I’m going to be on the large stage in entrance of an enormous crowd enjoying in opposition to huge gamers, and in addition getting the wins,” she mentioned. “I’m not stunned of something that’s taking place proper now.”
Fernandez, the most recent Canadian to burst onto the scene, mentioned she would rejoice her win along with her household and her health coach, Duglas Cordero, on the identical Italian restaurant they’ve dined at each night time of the event. Her birthday celebration on Monday will embrace a third-round doubles match alongside Erin Routliffe of New Zealand.
However whereas she seems forward, Fernandez also can mirror on this: Whereas she was nonetheless simply 18, she took down Osaka, the No. 3 seed and defending champion, and Kerber, the No. 16 seed and 2016 U.S. Open champion, all in lower than 48 hours. Collectively, these two champions personal seven main titles (Osaka has 4), however for the left-handed Fernandez, they have been simply two gamers who required distinctive tactical approaches.
“The largest distinction is that one is a left-hander, and the opposite one is a right-handed participant,” she mentioned. “I simply approached the matches the identical.”
Now she should toggle again to a different right-hander. Fernandez’s opponent within the quarterfinal stage is No. 5 Elina Svitolina, who had no bother dispatching No. 12 Simona Halep, 6-3, 6-3, in 76 minutes in Arthur Ashe Stadium on Sunday.
Fernandez, who was born and grew up in Montreal, grew to become the primary Canadian into the quarterfinal stage this 12 months. No. 6 Bianca Andreescu, from Toronto and the 2019 champion, will play No. 17 Maria Sakkari of Greece within the fourth spherical Monday night time.
However even because the stakes steadily improve, Fernandez has proven no concern on courtroom throughout her march into the second week of what’s arguably the most important tennis event of all of them. Maybe it’s as a result of she is simply too younger to know any higher.
“I keep in mind the sensation rather well,” Kerber, 33, mentioned. “I imply, yeah, it’s just a few years in the past. However in fact, she has no stress.”
Trailing by a set and down a break within the second, Fernandez flipped the momentum of the match on its head when she broke again to make it 4-4, taking the ball out of the air and ripping a backhand cross-court winner. Up went her fist and the followers erupted.
Within the tiebreaker, Fernandez went forward 5-1 and the followers, who have been streaming into the stadium as phrase unfold that she was placing up one other good combat, started chanting, “Let’s Go Ley-lah,” as if she have been De-rek Je-ter.
Kerber fought again to make it 5-4, however then Fernandez reached for a Kerber serve out vast and ripped a forehand winner down the road from outdoors the courtroom again into it — a shot so exact, so highly effective and so daring that it elicited a racket clap of appreciation from Kerber.
Two factors later, Fernandez pressured Kerber thus far vast that she couldn’t get the ball again safely into the courtroom. Once more, Fernandez’s arms went up in celebration and the followers roared their approval. Fernandez carried the momentum into the third set, the place she completed the job.
When she gained the ultimate level, the viewers exploded and jumped to their ft as one with a deafening cheer for his or her newly-adopted favourite younger star-in-the-making.
“I used to be simply having fun with each second of it,” Fernandez mentioned. “Truthfully, the group has been superb, so because of them I used to be capable of win.”
However she will not be the one teenager making a mark at this 12 months’s occasion. Carlos Alcaraz of Spain, 18, upset No. 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas after which beat Germany’s Peter Gojowczyk, 5-7, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 6-0, on Sunday to succeed in a quarterfinal. Additionally, the British 18-year-old Emma Raducanu will play Shelby Rogers within the fourth spherical on Monday.
Fernandez mentioned she remembered the primary time she noticed Alcaraz within the junior circuit and thought she was watching the reincarnation of a right-handed Rafael Nadal.
“Seeing all these youngsters, these children doing so nice on the U.S. Open and the opposite tournaments, too, is eye-opening,” she mentioned.
She referred to as herself a “happy-go-lucky” child who has at all times discovered pleasure in no matter she does. The followers have fed off that vitality, and he or she has fed off theirs. Maybe at some point, after a few years on the tour, when she is 33 like Kerber, she’s going to lose a few of her youthful glee.
What Fernandez enjoys now could be a particular, singular feeling, one which Kerber remembers properly, and mentioned is nearly unattainable to recapture.
“I feel it’s only for younger folks,” Kerber mentioned.