Emma Raducanu hasn’t been the only teen burning up the Arthur Ashe court over the past week, with 19-year-old Leylah Fernandez also securing her spot in the US Open final to set up a showdown with the Brit.
The Canadian produced a truly stunning display to beat No 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka in the semi-finals, winning 7-6, 4-6, 6-4 on Thursday night.
In fact, throughout Fernandez’s run in the tournament she has racked up an impressive list of scalps, becoming the youngest woman since Serena Williams to defeat two top-five players in the same Grand Slam.
Leylah Fernandez beat No 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka in the semi-finals of the US Open
The Canadian faces Britain’s Emma Raducanu in the final on Saturday on the Arthur Ashe court
The young talent came into the US Open unseeded and has had to defeat two-time US Open champion Naomi Osaka, 2016 champ Angelique Kerber, Elina Svitolina and Sabalenka to make it to the final.
In doing so, she became the 4th Canadian male or female to make a major final joining Eugenie Bouchard (2014 Wimbledon), Milos Raonic (2016 Wimbledon) and Bianca Andreescu (won 2019 US Open).
Fernandez has overcome obstacles not only in her journey to the final but to the US Open itself.
She felt the sting of rejection early in her career when Tennis Quebec’s development programme dropped her at just seven years old.
Tennis Quebec’s development programme dropped Fernandez at just seven years old
A teacher then told a young Fernandez to stop playing tennis and focus on her studies as she ‘would never make it’.
‘A teacher told me to stop playing tennis, you’ll never make it, just focus on school,’ she said.
‘I’m glad she told me that because every day I have that phrase in my head saying: I’m going to keep going, push through, prove to her everything I’ve dreamed of I’m going to achieve.’
The 19-year-old was resilient and continued to play despite being told to give up tennis
Jorge stepped in to take up the mantle of co-coach and mentor when the budding tennis player was desperate to continue playing despite being cut from the development programme.
After several world-class performances in the court, Tennis Canada officials invited her to train with them.
But there were differences of opinion over how much Fernandez should play and ultimately Jorge pulled his daughter out of the programme, continuing to coach her himself.
He knew very little about tennis but he did know what it took to be a professional athlete. Jorge, who immigrated to Canada at age four, played football professionally for Ecuador.
Jorge Fernandez, a former professional footballer, coaches his daughter Leylah
The self-taught tennis coach started taking notes from other players’ coaches to train her during her initial years.
He also brought his footballing background into their training sessions, reportedly wanting her to be moulded like a footballer – explosive, fit, fast and intelligent. He even breaks out a football in their sessions.
Before picking up a racket, Fernandez wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a footballer but he steered her towards tennis.
‘I don’t believe a child should go into a sport because her parents are in it,’ he said, reported by CBC. ‘I want it to belong to her.’
He instilled the patience, the hard work, the dedication he knew it took to make it as an athlete into his daughter which has seen her go from beginning to play at age six to taking the tennis world by storm.
But, thanks to superstition, Jorge won’t be in New York to watch his daughter compete in her first Grand Slam final.
Her younger sister Bianca (right) also plays and arrived in New York after playing in Spain
Fernandez’s mother Irene will be supporting her daughter in New York with her younger sister
He will remain in Florida, deciding not to a change a seemingly winning formula, but keeps in constant communication for both strategy and support.
Her 17-year-old younger sister Bianca, another tennis player in the family, arrived from Spain where she played an ITF event last week and was joined by their mother Irene.
Although her father isn’t in her box in New York, a more famous face is. Game recognised game as NBA legend Steve Nash sat alongside her family to witness her secure her place in the final
Inspiration NBA legend Steve Nash was present in Fernandez’s box during her semi-final win
Fernandez said she looks to fellow Canadian and Brooklyn Nets coach for inspiration and support.
‘I remember when I was younger, my dad used him as an example and told me I had to work hard like Steve Nash. Hopefully, we can have a tennis match soon,’ she said following her victory.
Born to an Ecuadorian immigrant and a Toronto-born Filipina, Fernandez is trilingual, fluent in English, Spanish and French.
Her former high school classmates revealed that the reserved Fernandez often missed class for competitions, but was always humble in the wake of her victories.