Once again, there’s reason to celebrate amid the pandemic. If only because there’s Filipino blood running in her veins, Canada-born Leylah Annie Fernandez becomes the nation’s latest star on the global stage.
Until she defeated Naomi Osaka yesterday in the biggest upset in the 141st U.S. Open, Fernandez, whose mother is the daughter of Filipino immigrants and married to an Ecuadorian, was not in the tennis radar of Philippine sports.
We didn’t give a hoot when she beat Ana Konjuh, Novak Djokovic’s compatriot from Serbia, 7-6, 6-2 in Round 1, and Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi, 7-5, 7-5, in Round 2. Who is she?
And, despite the back-to-back wins, Fernandez, ranked 73rd in the world, didn’t merit a second look in the run-up to her meeting with Osaka.
Osaka was even very well rested going into battle against Fernandez as she had a walkover win over the ailing Olga Danilovic in the second round.
But the left-handed Fernandez, displaying a gift almost inherent in a wizard, outlasted Osaka, 5-7, 7-6, 6-4, in the process dethroning the champion and likewise snapping the Japanese’s 17-match winning streak in amassing four Grand Slam titles in the last four years.
Fernandez’s victory completed a day of upsets authored by 18-year-olds after Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz ousted Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas, also the No. 3 seed like Osaka, in a five-set thriller.
Turning 19 on Sept. 6, Fernandez, like Alcaraz, has been suddenly thrust to the spotlight after bundling out Osaka.
Suddenly, she’s from nobody to somebody.
The incurable optimists now say Fernandez is a strong candidate to duplicate Osaka’s spectacular feat of four years ago.
Back then, Osaka, then also unseeded like Fernandez today, was the surprise 18-year-old champion of the 2018 U.S. Open after upsetting the legendary Serena Williams.
So consistent was Fernandez yesterday with her winners-producing strokes that Osaka, in frustration, hurled her racket twice and smacked the ball into the stands to earn a code violation for ball abuse.
Asked if her triumph surprised her, the 5-foot-6 Fernandez, who speaks French, English and Spanish, said: “Right before the match, I knew I would win.”
Who is she again?