The 21 & Under Club, 2020 Edition: Leylah FernandezBy Aug 02, 2020
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The 21 & Under Club, 2020 Edition: Leylah Fernandez
The Canadian’s rapid rise has been a team effort, with inspiration from the Williamses—and not just Serena and Venus.
Published Aug 02, 2020
As we reveal this year's edition of The 21 & Under Club, we'd like to call your attention to Team Luke Hope for Minds, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that supports families with children who have suffered an acquired brain injury. Headed by former Texas Tech tennis coach Tim Siegel—whose son, Luke, suffered severe head and chest trauma from a golf cart accident which resulted in an anoxic brain injury—Team Luke Hope for Minds has lost numerous fundraising opportunities throughout 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
To learn more about the organization, and for information on how to donate, go to teamlukehopeforminds.org
**WTA Rank: No. 118
UTR Rank: No. 64
What she's done since last summer: Reached final of WTA Acapulco as a 190th-ranked qualifier**
Moments after her surprise runner-up finish in Acapulco earlier this year, 17-year-old Leylah Annie
Fernandez delivered her first WTA trophy speech. Following a week spent playing with poise and intensity beyond her years, the young Canadian’s emotions finally got the better of her as she thanked her family—and for good reason.
When Fernandez was 11, her mother Irene moved from their Quebec home to California for a job that would help support the tennis aspirations of both Leylah Annie and her younger sister Bianca, who also plays competitively.
“Knowing how much she fought for us has given me motivation to do the same on the court,” says Fernandez, who keenly understands and appreciates the cost of her success.
While Irene worked stateside, Fernandez’s father Jorge raised and coached his daughters. A former
soccer player in his native Ecuador, he knew nothing about tennis when he first handed Leylah Annie a racquet at age 5. He’s since created a coaching philosophy in part by reading books and watching videos of legends like Andre Agassi and Martina Navratilova.
“Richard Williams was the father he used as an example in how he brought up his daughters,” Fernandez says. “Just to see what Serena and Venus have done—I don’t have doubts that my sister and I can do the same.”
Fernandez didn't drop a set during her first six matches at the Abierto Mexicano TELCEL. (Getty Images)
Self-described as happy and energetic, the petite lefty thrives on surprising opponents with her variety and shot-making ability. Just 5’4”, she makes up for her small stature with blinding speed.
“My greatest strength is how fast I am on the court,” she says. “No matter how tired I get, I always try to find a little more speed. I sometimes surprise even myself!”
Fernandez ended her illustrious junior career by hoisting the Roland Garros trophy last June, and while she admits that victory added pressure to perform in the pros, she has avoided growing pains. In addition to her run in Acapulco as a qualifier, Fernandez also qualified at the Australian Open, defeated world No. 5 Belinda Bencic in Fed Cup, and took out Sloane Stephens en route to the Monterrey quarterfinals. Her WTA ranking rose from No. 209 in January to No. 118 in March, which was enough to earn her an Indian Wells wild card—just days before COVID-19 forced the tournament’s cancellation.
With her breakthrough season interrupted, Fernandez is spending quality time with her beloved support system in Boynton Beach, Fla. She’s reunited with her mother—who can now work remotely—and focusing on more standard teenage pursuits of high-school graduation and learning how to drive.
But she hasn’t lost sight of her more unconventional goals, including a Roland Garros title and a No. 1 ranking. She even has a new target in mind.
“Now the goal is to get into Indian Wells,” she says, “whenever we end up playing it next, without a wild card.”
Monday, July 27: Sofia Kenin | Monday, July 27: Elena Rybakina | Monday, July 27: Alex de Minaur, Dayana Yastremska, Casper Ruud | Tuesday, July 28: Stefanos Tsitsipas | Tuesday, July 28: Thiago Seyboth Wild | Wednesday, July 29: Amanda Anisimova | Wednesday, July 29: Brandon Nakashima | Thursday, July 30: Coco Gauff | Thursday, July 30: Caty McNally | Thursday, July 30: Jannik Sinner, Iga Swiatek | Friday, July 31: Felix Auger-Aliassime | Friday, July 31: Carlos Alcaraz | Saturday, August 1: Denis Shapovalov | Saturday, August 1: J.J. Wolf | Sunday, August 2: Bianca Andreescu | Sunday, August 2: Leylah Fernandez | Sunday, August 2: Marketa Vondrousova, Miomir Kecmanovic