Canadian teenager Fernandez feeling confident after stunning Bencic


Leylah Annie Fernandez of Canada. (Mark Blinch/CP)

It was back to the books for Canadian teenager Leylah Annie Fernandez on Monday after a busy week capped by one of the most impressive performances of her young tennis career.

The 17-year-old from Laval, Que., delivered a stunning upset of fifth-ranked Belinda Bencic at a Fed Cup qualifier over the weekend, a result that gave her a big boost of confidence ahead of her first full season as a pro.

"I was just happy that I was able to do what I’ve practised," Fernandez said from Boynton Beach, Fla. "In the key moments, I was able to hit my winners."

After flying home from Switzerland, the 186th-ranked Fernandez enjoyed an off-day from the court Monday and devoted some time to schoolwork. She’s aiming to complete her online studies so that she can finish high school in June.

That month will also mark the one-year anniversary of her French Open junior girls’ title. She made the transition to Challenger pro tour events after that win and now appears primed for success on the WTA Tour.

Fernandez didn’t lose a set in the qualifying draw in her first Australian Open women’s singles appearance last month. She eventually fell in the first round to 62nd-ranked Lauren Davis.

With Bianca Andreescu and Eugenie Bouchard nursing injuries, Fernandez was thrust into singles play last week in her second Fed Cup appearance. She tested 68th-ranked Jil Teichmann in a 7-6 (4), 6-4 loss on Friday before surprising Bencic 6-2, 7-6 (3) a day later.

It was a bittersweet day for the Canadian side. Fernandez picked up the lone rubber in a 3-1 loss that sent the host Swiss side into the Fed Cup Finals and left Canada in a lower-level playoff in mid-April.

Fernandez was well aware of Bencic’s resume heading into the match. The 22-year-old Swiss won the Rogers Cup in 2015, one of four WTA Tour singles titles over her career.

"It’s not intimidating, I see it as an opportunity," Fernandez said of the matchup. "It’s a challenge for me, but every match is a challenge and every match is important. I always want to win."

She earned three service breaks in the opening set and wasn’t fazed by the vocal supporters cheering Bencic on at the Swiss Tennis Arena.

"The gameplan was simple," Fernandez said. "I was just trying to be more aggressive than her. We knew she was going to be aggressive. We knew she would try to hit the ball early and fast. So we just tried to be aggressive as much as we can."

Fernandez has yet to finalize her tournament appearances for the coming weeks. She’d like to play Indian Wells, Miami and perhaps in Mexico, and is hoping the upset win may improve her chances of getting some wild-card entries.

The young left-hander was not the only Canadian tennis player in the spotlight last week.

Vasek Pospisil rose 28 positions to No. 104 in the ATP Tour world rankings on Monday after reaching the final of the Open Sud de France.

The 29-year-old from Vancouver posted upset wins over Aljaz Bedene, compatriot Denis Shapovalov, Richard Gasquet and David Goffin before dropping a 7-5, 6-3 decision to ninth-ranked Gael Monfils in the final of the ATP 250-level tournament.

Only Jiri Vesely, who jumped 35 spots to No. 72, had a bigger rise among top-150 Tour players this week.

Novak Djokovic remained No. 1 on an unchanged top 20. Shapovalov, from Richmond Hill, Ont., was the top-ranked Canadian at No. 16. Montreal’s Felix Auger-Aliassime held steady at No. 21 and Milos Raonic of Thornhill, Ont., remained at No. 32.

Pospisil’s ranking plummeted after he missed the first six months of the 2019 season to recover from back surgery. He posted solid results upon his return and helped anchor the Canadian team at the Davis Cup Finals last fall.

Pospisil, who cracked the top 25 in 2014, can use his protected ranking for tournament entries through Miami next month.

He didn’t drop a set in his first three matches in Montpellier, France, and then knocked off 10th-ranked David Goffin on Saturday with a 6-3, 1-6, 7-5 result. That sent the Canadian into a singles final for the first time since losing to Raonic at the Citi Open in 2014.

On Sunday, Monfils saved all four break points he faced to win the tournament for the third time in his career.

Pospisil also generated some online buzz by taking a sip of maple syrup during a break in the action. The 19-second clip, posted on ATP Tennis TV, had generated over 291,000 views by mid-afternoon Monday.

"Maple Syrup," Pospisil tweeted with a Maple Leaf emoji. "Best Sports performance drink. Anti-cancerous properties. Rich in nutrients & minerals. Fights against terrorists. Shockingly good in coffee. A great friend. You’re Welcome, World."

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