Leylah Annie Fernandez always believed she could achieve big things in the sport of tennis. Sunday evening’s performance in Mexico was simply another stepping stone for the budding teenager from Quebec.
Fernandez defeated Switzerland’s Viktorija Golubic 6-1, 6-4 in 1 hour, 29 minutes to capture her first career WTA title at the Abierto GNP Seguros in Monterrey.
It was just her second career final, but Fernandez leaned on prior experiences, to help her get through and find a way to win.
“Last year, I lost in a final in Acapulco. This year, I tried to use those emotions I felt from last time as fuel so that I could get the win," Fernandez said after the match. "It definitely helped today.”
From the outset, the left-hander imposed her quick strike, baseline game to disrupt the Swiss veteran. After navigating a long opening service game, Fernandez promptly raced out to an early 5-0 lead in the first set.
Golubic finally halted the momentum by holding serve, before Fernandez served out the first.
In the second set, the far more competitive of the two, Fernandez and Golubic battled to a 4-all tie, before the Canadian converted a crucial break of serve, her fourth of the match.
She then comfortably closed the match out on serve, sealing the victory in dazzling fashion by winning a thrilling 11 shot exchange that ended at net, hitting a forehand winner into the open court.
Fernandez reflected on her big victory after the match, and overcoming an experienced player on the other side of the court. “I knew that Viktorija came from a final recently,” Fernandez said. “She was playing incredibly at the beginning of the year. I just tried to focus on myself, tried to keep playing my game.”
That game was one of precise aggression.
Fernandez played tight to the baseline throughout the match, neutralizing Golubic’s heavy spin by attacking early and often.
She took time and space away from the 28-year-old Swiss veteran, ending points at net with ease, like in this great exchange here.
— wta (@WTA) March 21, 2021
Fernandez was also able to hold her nerve on serve, staving off four of the five break point chances Golubic saw, and winning 41 of 67 service points overall.
“I’m happy with the way that I was able to stay in the present moment, and not really wander into the future, or stay in the past,” said Fernandez.
There have been numerous building blocks laid down by the young Canadian in her steady ascent as a professional. In June of 2019 at the age of 16, she won the French Open Junior Singles Final.
Early 2020, Fernandez qualified for her first major, debuting at the Australian Open. A month later, she posted her first career top 10 win, defeating Belinda Bencic, then reached her first career final, with a run in Acapulco, Mexico.
After a lengthy COVID-19 hiatus from both tours, Fernandez returned in strong form too, making the round of 16 in Lexington, Kentucky, winning a main draw match at the US Open, and then advancing to the third round of the French Open.
With this title in Monterrey, Fernandez now moves up 19 spots to 69th in the WTA rankings as of Monday. She will not have much time to rest on her laurels either.
Fernandez now travels to Florida to compete in the Miami Open, where she is seeded second in the qualifying field. There was only one wish left unfulfilled for the 18-year-old after lifting her maiden title. An embrace with Mom and Dad.
“I was a bit sad… We can’t celebrate as a family, and it was a family effort for years. But I was happy that all of the hard work, the sacrifices that we’ve made since the beginning is paying off," Fernandez said.
"I’m hoping there will be many more, and next time my family can be with me every step of the way in the tournament.”
With Fernandez’s penchant for milestones, it’s possible we won’t have to wait too long for another.