It’s one thing to be at your lowest. It’s another to recognize it.
The difference between Leylah Annie Fernandez and the player she was when she reached the final of the United States Open in 2021 is minimal. If experience has a price, it is paying dearly for it.
A total of 11 wins in 19 games. In a sport other than tennis, this record would be acceptable, if not sufficient. However, in an individual discipline where every loss means packing up, playing too close to the .500 benchmark is insufficient.
Especially for a Grand Slam finalist. Especially for a player capable of being among the best in the world.
However, his age gives him a sort of cushion. Even if it means not having a good season, Fernandez has time. The time needed to do things better.
Since her ascent to Flushing Meadows, it’s been dead calm for the 20-year-old Quebecer. She won a title in Monterrey, sure, but she never got to relive the thrill of victory and taste again the excitement of a victorious run on one of the biggest stages in the world.
“The results aren’t there,” she told La Presse from an office in Vancouver’s Pacific Coliseum, where she is in preparation for the Billie Jean King Cup qualifying round.
Dressed in a national team-colored Fila tracksuit, Fernandez was very clear-headed when analyzing her last few months on the WTA Tour. ” It’s a little complicated. »
Thirteenth player in the world last summer, the left-hander is struggling to line up the victories. She has been unable to win more than two games in a row since the start of the season. His game is nothing short of catastrophic. She has not lost touch necessarily. It is only unable to be constant. Invariably, she struggles against the best players, without guaranteeing to win these crucial matches in her quest to return to the world elite.
“Physically, I feel good, I’m confident, I feel strong. My game is also going well, I try to impose it on the players I play against. I just need to be patient,” says the 50th world racket.
This is the most difficult aspect of his progress to accept: “Even though I feel good, the results don’t come. »
Fernandez celebrated his 19th birthday in New York a year and a half ago, in the midst of one of the most exhilarating weeks in Canadian sport.
At these United States Open, she defeated Naomi Osaka, Angelique Kerber, Elina Svitolina and Aryna Sabalenka in quick succession before losing in the final against the no less surprising Emma Raducanu.
Of course, in the aftermath of this magnificent run, Fernandez had to deal with something unknown: expectations. Those of fans, his new sponsors, Canadians and his own.
So it’s only fitting to ask whether, for all the glory and fallout that this somewhat precocious New York adventure has spawned, all that hype, attention and pressure will have had any ill effects.
“Maybe,” she retorts, carefully thinking things through. I don’t know. Right now, I really don’t know. Even before the US Open, my expectations were very high. Currently, it is very normal for me to have these expectations. We’ll see in the next few years, you can ask me this question in a few years, but right now, I’m at peace with the path I’ve taken. »
During this American bubble, the Quebecer was unshakable. It’s still too early to say if she was overplaying or if she will be able to reproduce such quality of play. However, she has since lost all six matches against top 10 players.
“Yes, I reached the final of a grand slam tournament and yes, right now it’s a very difficult time when I play against top 10 players. Even top 20 and 30 players have a big caliber, so all matches are going to be tough. »
Fernandez has been unlucky, however, in the draws since the start of the season. Her slide in the standings will, of course, give her tougher opponents earlier and earlier in the tournaments, but bad luck hangs on the Quebecer.
She faced Caroline Garcia (4th in the world) in the second round in Australia, Iga Świątek (1st) in the second round in Dubai, Garcia (5th) again, but in the third round, in Indian Wells, Belinda Bencic (9th) in the second round in Miami and Paula Badosa (12th) last week in the second round of the Charleston tournament.
Fernandez laughed when the remark was made to her, as if to approve that indeed, she never had a break. “I’m happier to have been able to play those games, so I can see where my game is and I can compare myself, see the mistakes I make in key moments. Now it’s just to go back to work and wait for another opportunity to play against them. »
At least Fernandez was able to take some consolation by virtue of a presence in the women’s doubles final at the Miami tournament with her partner Taylor Townsend.
His medium-term goal is to return to the top 30 by the end of the season.
In the meantime, she will have to help Canada qualify for the Billie Jean King Cup Finals. To achieve this, the Canadian team will have to get past Belgium over the weekend.
Fernandez looked relieved to reconnect with familiar surroundings in Vancouver and reunite with her teammates.
“Ah! she pushed with a sigh and lowering her shoulders, I’m so happy. »
She notes the growing enthusiasm for team competitions. For players like her, for whom it’s more difficult, a competition like this can be lifesaving. “This is the only week where we can play a tournament that is bigger than ourselves and where our goals are not just personal. »
She will also find Rebecca Marino and Gabriela Dabrowski. Two teammates holding a special place in her heart: “They opened their arms to me and taught me what it was like to play the BJK Cup and represent Canada. I’m always happy to find Rebecca and Gaby, they’re like big sisters… Like my parents rather,” concluded the youngest of the team with a frank laugh.