Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal each won yet another ATP title on Saturday, while at the WTA's Doha stop, Aryna Sabalenka defeated two-time Grand Slam champion Petra Kvitova to win her sixth title in her last seven finals. It was a big day for the game's big names.
But it was also a big day for a forgotten name, Heather Watson, and a new one, Leylah Fernandez. They tangled for the title at the WTA's other stop, in Acapulco, and they gave us by far the most competitive set of tennis this weekend.
Watson, who has never climbed higher than No. 38 in the world rankings, came into the match having won three WTA titles, but none since 2016, in Monterrey, Mexico. She took the first set, 6-4, over her 17-year-old opponent who was playing in her first tour final.
The 17-year-old, however, had reached her first final in spectacular fashion, not losing a set in six matches, including two qualifiers. Before the tournament, she was ranked 190th in the world, hadn't won a main-draw match at the WTA level in 2020, and had an N/A under her height, age and birthplace on the tour's website.
Fernandez was also missing a headshot, so here's a picture of her, along with her extreme forehand grip:
That forehand was essential to making the second set into the marathon it would become. Fernandez settled down and earned two set points while returning at 5-4. Watson would save both, and then be forced to do the same in her next service game. But again, Watson was up to the task, and the match headed to a tiebreak.
Watson's resilience appeared to have been rewarded when she earned four championship points at 6-2 in the tiebreak. What happened next is why you'll be seeing more photos of Fernandez for years to come.
From the WTA website's report on the match:
However, Fernandez chipped away at that lead, drawing errors from the Brit, and the Canadian saved all four match points. A fifth set point and a fifth match point, respectively, came and went as the tiebreak hit 8-8. At last, Fernandez claimed a sixth set point at 9-8 with a divine backhand winner into the corner, and she stunningly converted the set after a Watson forehand went long.
"It was heartbreaking losing the second set," Watson admitted. "But I also reminded myself that I also saved a lot of set points before that. It was so close, both of us had our chances."
Watson had played Fernandez twice before, so while seeing her opponent's best tennis wasn't new, this circumstance surely was. Five match-point misses? Those are hard to leave behind. Watson lauded Fernandez's mental toughness after the match, but she could have said the same about herself.
Why? Well, it took ten championship points to get the job done. Fernandez incredibly saved four more, giving everything she had, and probably much she didn't know she had.
For all Fernandez had done, though, she was always fighting from behind. Watson continually stayed ahead, and kept earning more shots at ending the match. Finally, at 5-1, she won the final set and her fourth career WTA title, on this point:
The drama may have ended, but the emotion had only just begun, during the championship and runner-up speeches. (You can watch Watson's, in full, at the video atop this page.)