At 5'4 '', she does not have the physical profile of the vast majority of professional tennis players. But like many athletes before her, Leylah Annie Fernandez compensates otherwise.
Sylvain Bruneau, head coach of the National Women's Program at Tennis Canada, was not surprised to see the young Quebecer clinch her first WTA Tour title on Sunday night. For him, this is just the continuation of an ascent that has unfolded without episodes of stagnation until now.
“She had a great transition to the pros. She made a passage without complications and she continues to progress. His game is progressing well, ”he notes.
Bruneau addresses the physical aspect as well. Despite being rather small and "petite", Fernandez "absorbs the speed of the ball well". Limiting what could be a disadvantage caused by his size.
And then there is the rest.
“She has a great game, she takes the ball early, she is able to make nice variations, she plays smart. And she has a fighting spirit, a tenacity, underlines the coach. You are going to tell me that all the other girls on the circuit are also combative and tenacious. Yes, but Leylah has a check mark. She is extremely determined, she has a quiet passion. She really is a warrior. "
Bruneau likes the way the Québécoise is run as well.
Bianca Andreescu and Fernandez have trained together twice in Australia, and Bruneau appreciated what he saw from Romain Derrider, the French coach of the one who has just triumphed in Monterrey.
“I really like his vision, his presence. And I like how he handles it all, ”summarizes Andreescu's coach.
At high speed
For his part, Louis Borfiga, vice-president of elite development at Tennis Canada for 15 years, was surprised. Not in the sense that he believed Fernandez incapable of this accomplishment. But the pace at which she is skipping steps often overtakes him.
“Once again, Leylah amazed me. Winning a WTA tournament at 18 and the way she played the final was impressive, he notes. Each time, she pleasantly surprises me by anticipating the hopes that I have in her. She won Roland-Garros junior with a year in advance, she beat a top 10 in the Fed Cup [the Swiss Belinda Bencic, a little over a year ago], she won a tournament. "
Fernandez, as Borfiga recalls, is only 18 years old. It will celebrate its 19 th anniversary on September 6, the Monday of the second week of the US Open. We can bet that her goal is to highlight the event on one of the grounds of Flushing Meadows, after being stopped in the second round last year.
Because, the player said it to whoever wanted to hear it during the off-season, she has an eye on the top 10 this year. A bold goal. But, again, Bruneau is not surprised.
“I know the values and the state of mind that his dad [who was his trainer] instilled in him. So I know where she's from and that she's thinking big. She is reserved, but full of ambition. "
More experience than it seems
The trophies, Fernandez intends to accumulate them. Moreover, even if it was only a second final on the WTA circuit for her, her previous baggage undoubtedly weighed in the control of her emotions, Sunday evening.
In 2019, the Quebecer reached the final of two junior Grand Slams: finalist in Australia and winner at Roland-Garros. And then, she holds an ITF title (Gatineau) as well.
The rest of the course has already taken place on Monday evening. But, second favorite in qualifying for the WTA 1000 in Miami, she lost to Romania's Mihaela Buzarnescu, the same one that Bianca Andreescu had beaten on her return to competition last month.
Andreescu, precisely, is the 8 th favorite in this important tournament, the last before the portion of the clay season. It enjoys a bye in the first round and will face the winner between second Yaroslava Shvedova, 822 th world - which took a long break after giving birth to twins in October 2018 - and qualified.
A title for Mboko in the juniors
14-year-old Ontarian Victoria Mboko, who is very hopeful at Tennis Canada, has just won an ITF Group 4 junior tournament in Las Vegas. “For a girl of her age, it's a great result,” says Sylvain Bruneau. She was the tournament's second favorite, which didn't stop her from beating the favorite, 7-5, 6-3, in the final. Another year or two, and we see her following in the footsteps of Fernandez, Bouchard and Andreescu, does not hide the coach. Meanwhile, in the Dominican Republic, in a group 2 tournament, two Canadian women met in the final, Marina Stakusic winning in two sets against eighth seed Kayla Cross. Stakusic had eliminated the Quebecer and favorite Annabelle Xu in the quarter-finals. Mboko, Xu, Cross and Mia Kupres train together on a permanent basis at the Montreal National Tennis Center. “We had to send the girls to play,” explains Bruneau about the difficult context linked to the pandemic. They train non-stop, we couldn't just keep them here at the National Center. This week, the four are in San Diego for a Group 1 tournament. Three other Canadian women will also be playing, including Bianca Jolie Fernandez, sister of Leylah Annie.