Canadian Tennis Players Excel at the U.S. Open

The Canadian flag is all over the place at the U.S. Open, the place Canadian gamers are profitable on courts throughout the grounds and past.

On Saturday, Bianca Andreescu gained in Louis Armstrong Stadium whereas Denis Shapovalov waited to play there in the night time session. On Friday, Felix Auger-Aliassime beat Roberto Bautista Agut in Armstrong, Vasek Pospisil gained at doubles on Court 10, and three Canadian ladies gained junior qualifying matches at the Cary Leeds Center in the Bronx.

The largest win befell in Arthur Ashe Stadium on Friday, when Leylah Fernandez, a French Open junior champion two years in the past, beat No. three seed Naomi Osaka to muscle her method towards the entrance of Canada’s booming tennis program, an meeting line of gamers that features 4 males in the high 60 and 6 ladies in the high 100 of the junior rankings.

Not unhealthy for a rustic with a few tenth of the inhabitants of the United States. But Canadian gamers are pouring over the border and making New York their momentary dwelling.

“I’m just glad that there’s so many Canadians going deep in this tournament,” Fernandez mentioned shortly after she had confirmed the steely nerve it took to oust the defending champion in the world’s largest tennis stadium. Fernandez, who turns 19 on Monday, is the newest younger Canadian to captivate the tennis world, following in the path of Andreescu, who gained the 2019 U.S. Open; Auger-Aliassime; Shapovalov; and, earlier than them, Milos Raonic and Eugenie Bouchard.

A rustic of about 37 million, Canada has made a concerted effort over the previous a number of years to develop elite gamers, and it’s working. Most of them go via Tennis Canada’s high-performance improvement program, and lots of have been both immigrants themselves or the Canadian-born youngsters of immigrants.

Fernandez belongs to that listing, too, though her route is exclusive. Her father and coach, Jorge Fernandez, was born in Guayaquil, Ecuador, and moved to Montreal along with his household when he was a small boy. Fernandez’s mom, Irene Exevea, is of Filipino descent from Toronto.

Jorge Fernandez describes himself as a former journeyman skilled soccer participant in the decrease ranges of the sport, principally in Latin America. He by no means knew something about tennis till his daughter confirmed curiosity as a schoolgirl.

“She played some soccer in Montreal,” the elder Fernandez mentioned in a phone interview Saturday, “but I didn’t want her to just follow me. I wanted her to find her own passion.”

That turned out to be tennis, however Leylah struggled to realize the favor of the native tennis associations. She was a part of a Quebec-based improvement program for some time, however it dropped her, Jorge mentioned, partly as a result of she was tiny. She nonetheless needed to play.

“I told her, ‘It’s OK, we’ll do it ourselves,’” her father mentioned.

They plunged forward on their very own, and shortly sufficient, Leylah Fernandez was tearing via the ranks of her age group and a number of other years above it, profitable so many tournaments that Tennis Canada officers lastly invited her to coach with them.

But as usually occurs when dad and mom hand their youngsters over to tennis federations, there have been variations of opinion, particularly over how a lot Leylah ought to play. Ultimately, Jorge Fernandez took his daughter out of the program, though amicably, he says.

“I told them we would meet up again,” he defined, “and look, we have.”

He continued: “It’s OK to have disagreements. We all wanted the same thing, which is for Leylah to be successful. We just had a different idea of how to do it, for a while. But they have been doing great work. I tip my hat to them with all the success they have had with so many Canadians going through the program.”

Bianca Andreescu taking part in on Saturday.Credit…Justin Lane/EPA, by way of Shutterstock

Leylah’s mom thought their daughter can be a kind of successes, too. According to Jorge Fernandez, Exevea thought he was loopy to take away his daughter from a program that offered free teaching and extra. But he was dedicated to doing it himself, so he and Leylah and her youthful sister, Bianca Jolie, who’s 17, continued to coach on their very own in Montreal. (The oldest, Jodeci, is a dentist in Ohio and didn’t play tennis competitively).

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That left the chief bread-winning duties to Exevea, who, not like Jorge Fernandez, has a college diploma. She moved to California so she might earn U.S. and stayed there for 3 years whereas Jorge tapped into his data as a former skilled athlete to teach his daughters.

“Those were difficult years, because they only saw their mother maybe two times a year,” Jorge mentioned. “We finally decided to move to Florida. It’s the Mecca of tennis, and we could have the whole family together again.”

To study the artwork of tennis and training it, Jorge Fernandez immersed himself in the sport, studying texts and watching movies on the web. His objective was to domesticate a stability between work and enjoyable to make sure that Leylah by no means received burned out. He taught his daughter, who’s 5 toes 6 inches, to check Justine Henin, who’s listed at 5-6¾, as a result of it appeared like an applicable blueprint for achievement.

Despite her dimension, Leylah Fernandez is a potent ball striker. Her father claims that, pound for pound, Leylah is “the best power hitter on the tour,” and she or he derives confidence from her energy. Even earlier than she took the court docket towards Osaka, she mentioned she knew she might beat the four-time main champion.

“From a very young age, I knew I was able to beat anyone,” she mentioned Friday night time, earlier than noting that it was previous her bedtime.

When she gained the French Open junior title in 2019, Leylah Fernandez requested her father if they might have a good time at McDonald’s. Always diligent about diet, and in a metropolis identified for its culinary experience, Fernandez selected the quick meals restaurant as a strategy to splurge. Her father agreed.

“It was just the two of us,” Jorge mentioned. “It was sweet, but at the same time, the whole family should have been there. It’s one of the difficult things of the tennis life, all the travel.”

Jorge Fernandez couldn’t attend his daughter’s victory over Osaka. He was in Florida attending to enterprise. But earlier than she took the court docket, Leylah known as him for the strategic sport plan, and he was true to his ethos.

“He told me to go on the court, have fun,” she mentioned, and she or he adopted the recommendation completely, flashing an excellent smile throughout a relaxed however exuberant speech after the match.

For a time, her household had debated transferring to Ecuador in order that the ladies might play for that nation. Instead, they retained their loyalty to Canada, and Leylah Fernandez performs on the Canadian crew for the Billie Jean King Cup. On Sunday, she’s going to play No. 16 seed Angelique Kerber, a three-time Grand Slam match champion, for a spot in the quarterfinals.

Already, she and her compatriots have helped increase the profile of Canadian tennis a notch greater.

“Our goal here is just to have fun on court,” she mentioned, “to do our best. Hopefully we can inspire kids in Canada to keep going.”