Tennis star Leylah Fernandez back training after US Open

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Boynton Beach resident Leylah Fernandez recently returned home after a life-changing experience as the runner-up at the 2021 US Open in New York. The 19-year-old rising tennis star is back training on the court in South Florida with the passion and motivation to compete for future grand slam titles and be among the top players in women’s tennis.

Fernandez enjoyed a breakthrough moment to become the third women’s player to defeat three of the top five seeds at the US Open, which all featured thrilling three-set matches. She earned victories against No. 3 seed and defending champion Naomi Osaka, three-time major champion Angelique Kerber, No. 5 seed Elina Svitolina in the quarterfinals and No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka in the semifinals.

“We always try to peak at grand slams,” Fernandez said. “I was unable to do that in the past three. I was training very hard at home and the results were starting to show. We were just waiting for that one moment that everything would fall into place. I think physically I knew that I was capable of going the distance against the great players and champions.

“I always knew with the fitness I have done in the past years, I can get to the third set and still be able to play against them. The one thing that did kind of shock me was how I was able to use the emotion from the New York crowd,” she said. “They were cheering for me and their energy and encouragement pushed me through. I am getting a lot of positive messages and it’s very heartwarming. Even though I lost, it made me think I am on the right path to do greater things.”

Great Britain’s Emma Raducanu, 18, won the singles title in the first US Open women’s final with two teenagers since 1999. Fernandez, who was born in Montreal and grew up in Canada, displayed maturity and poise during her remarkable journey to become a popular fan favorite.

Leylah Fernandez practices at the US Open.

Leylah Fernandez practices at the US Open. (Jorge Fernandez / Courtesy)

“I knew what the moment meant,” Fernandez said. “The most important part that helped me keep calm is I was enjoying myself and being in the situation because that is what I dreamed of since I was very young. I am very lucky to train with my dad. He used to play competitive soccer and he knew a lot about competition. I would train for specific point situations and it helped me.”

Fernandez showed her ability on court with a powerful left-handed swing and shot precision while rising to the occasion under pressure in difficult circumstances. She improved her conditioning under the direction of fitness coach Duglas Cordero. She also became more vocal and confident during the tournament run.

“Off the court, I was talking more and communicating with my team and not afraid to speak my mind,” Fernandez said. “In the past, I was more introverted and very shy. It would be hard to express what I was really feeling. I learned a lot about myself and how I can open up. It helped me in my tennis game to let go and be free.”

Fernandez received support from former professional athletes during her impressive performance at the US Open. Canadian Steve Nash, a former NBA MVP and All-Star and current head coach of the Brooklyn Nets, cheered her on at the tournament while former American World No. 1 tennis player Billie Jean King provided encouragement.

“I used to watch films of Steve Nash and my dad would use him as an example,” Fernandez said. “I was very surprised that he reached out to me first. I was very honored to have him in my box supporting me. It even motivated me more to play my game and have fun and to go for my shots. Billie Jean King is a legend to our sport. I was able to meet her for the first time in person and she was telling me I was doing a good job and it opened my eyes too.”

Fernandez, who celebrated her 19th birthday during the US Open, has a special bond with her family. Her father, Jorge, is her tennis coach and a former professional soccer player from Ecuador. She trains on the court with younger sister Bianca, who participates in ITF tournaments. She also is close with her mother, Irene, a Filipino Canadian, and older sister Jodeci, who is a dentist.

“I know my dad and grandparents struggled a lot growing up, but Canada opened its doors and helped us and it gave me the opportunities to do what I want,” Fernandez said. “My dad is going to push my limits and do everything to make me better. He is careful so I do not burn out. He knows that I am doing it because I love it and not because I am being pressured. I think he is doing a great job as a tennis coach and dad. My younger sister is playing in tournaments and improving every day. We are pushing each other. I want the best for her so I try to bring my best tennis and she does the exact same thing on the court. We are tight-knit and always have each other’s back. My mom is so supportive and positive. I know when I am down, she will be there when I need her the most. My older sister always gives me great advice to block out the pressure and stress and to keep working hard.”

Jorge, who was initially coaching Bianca at a tennis tournament, elected to continue to watch from home out of superstition after his daughter’s winning streak at the US Open. She was in constant communication with her father, texting nearly every hour during the tournament and creating strategy and plans for matches through FaceTime. Fernandez recently had the opportunity to reunite with her father in Boynton Beach.

Leylah Fernandez spends an off-court moment with her father, Jorge.

Leylah Fernandez spends an off-court moment with her father, Jorge. (Jorge Fernandez / Courtesy)

“He just saw me as a daughter and not as an athlete and I saw him as a dad and not as a coach,” Fernandez said. “We hugged and talked. He was seeing how I was physically, emotionally and mentally. He was seeing if I was OK and if I did not seem too tired. It’s what makes him a great dad and that helps him as a coach.”

Fernandez, who relocated to Boynton Beach in 2018, reflected on taking her game to the next level as a junior player and continuing to emerge in the national spotlight on the WTA Tour.

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“The reason why we moved to South Florida is because there are more tennis academies,” Fernandez said. “Florida is just the perfect place and the weather is perfect. Every week, I would always have different players to play with. I can get the amount of hours that I want on court. It was the perfect environment to help me develop my tennis game and a great family environment too.”

Fernandez added she excelled while training at ProWorld Tennis Academy in Delray Beach.

“We liked that it’s a small academy,” she said. “It’s really based on trying to make the junior players into professionals. They have different programs to help develop my tennis game and it’s competitive. There are so many young and talented players that want to be professionals so we always get that competition on the court.”

Fernandez, who was home-schooled, is also dedicated to her education off the court after graduating from high school. She is currently taking online courses with Indiana University East and the Women’s Tennis Association.

Leylah Fernandez is back practicing in Boynton Beach after playing in the US Open.

Leylah Fernandez is back practicing in Boynton Beach after playing in the US Open. (Jorge Fernandez/Courtesy)

Fernandez won her first WTA Tour event at the 2021 Monterrey Open last March. She had the opportunity to represent Canada during the Summer Olympics in Tokyo. She entered the US Open during August ranked No. 73. She currently has a career-high WTA ranking of No. 28 in the world.

“I can’t wait to get back on court and win as many tournaments as I can,” she said. “There are more younger teenagers going up the rankings and making more of an impact on the court. I think it’s very good for the sport. It makes it a little bit different and exciting. I am pretty sure the fans are loving it too. I am glad it’s happening and that I can be a small piece to that history.”

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