Fernandez hopes to follow idol’s footsteps after French Open title


Canada's Leylah Annie Fernandez plays a shot. (Jean-Francois Badias/AP)

MONTREAL — Canada’s Leylah Annie Fernandez achieved her primary goal for this season by winning the French Open junior girls’ singles title, but now an even more daunting task awaits her — making the transition to the pro tour.

Fernandez, who is just 16, makes no secret of her desire to follow in the footsteps of one of her idols, Justine Henin. The Belgian won the junior title at Roland Garros in 1997 before going on to win the women’s title in 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2007.

Henin, now 37, won a total of seven Grand Slam titles over her career.

"A coach told me that my game resembles hers a lot," the Laval, Que., native told reporters Tuesday in Montreal. "I am very happy to hear that, because I want to win Grand Slam tournaments. I want to have her attitude. She is fast, she is strong, she is very intelligent on the court."

By all appearances, she is on the right track.

She is the first Canadian to have won the junior girls’ French Open title. The only other Canadian to win a Grand Slam girls’ title was Eugenie Bouchard at Wimbledon in 2012.

Fernandez realizes she still has a lot to learn before she can be compared to Henin, and she knows significant changes will be needed to allow her to excel on tennis’s biggest stage

She currently trains in Florida, where her father Jorge Fernandez is her coach. She is not part of the national development program, which means she does not receive the support and funding of Tennis Canada. However her father and Sylvain Bruneau, the coach in charge of Tennis Canada’s women’s program, have been in discussions for several weeks to bring her to the next level.

"Leylah is among the elite young players in Canada — think of Denis [Shapovalov], Felix [Auger-Aliassime] and Bianca [Andreescu]," Bruneau said. "Yes, she trains in Florida, but Tennis Canada is involved." He noted that Tennis Canada coach Hugo Di Feo was at Roland Garros to lend her a hand.

Bruneau said he and her father have drawn up a list of coaches who could help the young player, and a selected coach could be announced soon.

Still, Fernandez is a rough diamond who still needs polishing.

"She is only 16, so she still has a lot of work ahead of her," Bruneau said. "She’s learning. She has to continue to develop her game. However what is interesting, is that she has a lot of tools — her game is very versatile — and I believe she is already one of the best players in the world under 18."

He added that there is a good chance Fernandez will get a wild-card spot for the Rogers Cup in Toronto Aug. 3-11.

Bruneau gave media an update on Andreescu, whom he coaches and who has not played since withdrawing with an injury before her second round match at the French Open.

He said there is a good chance Andreescu will not return to competition in time for Wimbledon, which opens July 1.

"She has consulted several doctors to get some diagnoses," he said.

There is no schedule for her return, he added, but he is hopeful she will be fit to play the Rogers Cup.


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