Pages: Leylah Fernandez

·3 min read

Before we celebrate Novak Djokovic’s career Grand Slam victory tomorrow.

At 4 a.m. (PH time) today, the U.S. Open women’s final started. Chances are, by the time you read this, a new champion was crowned.

Leylah Annie Fernandez and Emma Raducanu. Both Canadian-born. Both teenagers with parents of Asian descent. Leylah’s mom Irene, though born and raised in Canada, has Filipino blood running through her veins. Emma’s mom Renee hails from Shenyang, China.

Leylah turned 19 last Monday while Emma is 18. It’s the first all-teenager finale since 1999 when Martina Hingis played Serena Williams—a match my dad Bunny and I witnessed 22 Septembers ago.

On Serena, it’s interesting to note that she will turn 40 this Sept. 26—making her older than the combined ages of the two finalists.

LEYLAH. Entering the U.S. Open two Mondays ago, Leylah was ranked 73. If she wins today, she’ll move up to world No. 19. If Emma wins, from a 150 world ranking, she’ll move up to 24.

Leylah’s dad Jorge was born in Ecuador but moved to Canada at the age of four. Leylah’s athletic prowess was derived from her father, a former football pro. As a child, Leylah played football, volleyball and track-and-field. At the age of seven, she learned tennis from her dad.

Because of financial difficulties, the Fernandez family struggled. When Leylah was 10, her mom Irene relocated to California to work. At the age of 12, Leylah moved from Montreal to Florida to improve her tennis game.

A Radio-Canada Sports documentary on the Fernandez family showed how they invested in Leylah despite not having any extra savings or a house.

“We have nothing, honestly,” said the teary-eyed Jorge. “What we have, we devoted it to tennis. We found ourselves in a situation where, every year, we needed to put more and more money into tennis. At a certain point, that amount became a lot more than what we had.”

Their sacrifices paid off when, at the age of 16—the same age as Alex Eala—Leylah won the 2019 French Open junior title.

If Leylah wins the US Open title today, she’ll take home $2.5 million—dwarfing her pre-New York career prize money of $786,772.

She idolizes Justin Henin. Both stand about 5-foot-6.

“She’s not the biggest player nor the strongest player,” said Leylah of Henin, “but she always found a solution playing against bigger players.”

Leylah speaks three languages—English, French and Spanish—but not Tagalog.

“I know the language, it’s very hard. Tagalog, it was super complicated and I didn’t understand one word,” she said. “But maybe one day, if I have more free time, I can try and learn it if I can.”

Leylah’s favorite Filipino indulgence is her lolo’s cooking.

“Unfortunately, I do not know much about Filipino culture but I do know that Lolo cooks amazing,” said Fernandez.

“Hopefully when I go back home to Toronto, Canada and visit him he’s gonna make a really nice dish for the whole family and especially a Filipino dish.”

Pinoy food paired with the U.S. Open trophy—a perfect doubles combination.

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