Tennis teen sensation Leylah Fernandez has displayed grit and composure beyond her years while facing off against some of the best tennis players in the US Open.
It was not a usual sight to see for someone who has to handle elite competition and unbridled pressure at a young age of 19. But a glimpse of her teenage life speaks volumes on how she has developed a tough mettle as an athlete.
Moments after clinching a coveted berth in the Grand Slam final on Thursday by defeating world number two Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, Fernandez shared how her mother, a Canadian of Filipino descent, made a huge sacrifice to support the family and her dream.
Fernandez has grown to develop a characteristic that most Filipinos exhibit in such a situation – resiliency.
"My mom had to go to California for a few years to support my family and I in the tennis world," Fernandez told Jim Slater of Agence France-Presse (AFP).
"That few years been definitely hard for me because I needed a mom, I needed someone to be there for me through the age of 10 to 13," she then continued.
"I've barely seen her at that time. Every time I saw her, it was like seeing a stranger but at the same time someone so familiar."
Having roots in the Philippines, it is not a stretch to say that Fernandez's experience is just a page out of a book filled with countless Filipinos who have parents living away from home to make ends meet.
Leylah's father/coach, Jorge, sees her mother's influence providing the same fighting spirit on his daughter's game. “She’s got Filipino blood in her. It’s beautiful,” he said.
She’s got Filipino blood in her. It’s beautiful.Jorge Fernandez, Leylah's father/coach
BBC reported that while Fernandez has admitted to not knowing much about the Filipino culture, she said she loves Filipino cuisine in an interview.
"I don't know much about the Filipino culture but I do know that my lolo (grandfather) – he cooks amazing, so when I get back to Canada in Toronto when I visit, he's gonna make really nice food, especially Filipino dishes because I do miss it," she remarked in a post-game interview.
And to a certain extent, Fernandez has grown to develop a characteristic that most Filipinos exhibit in such a situation – resiliency.
"You know what? I'm just glad that we made that decision of doing that, like having my mom go to California, because it made me stronger," she bared.
She then chimed in, "I think it made my family, too, saying that we're going to make the sacrifice, it's going to be worth it so I can make that dream possible."
Banking on that mental fortitude, Fernandez defied the odds and overcame fancied competitors on her way to the US Open final such as four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka, three-time Grand Slam winner Angelique Kerber, world No. 5 Elina Svitolina and her recent victim Sabalenka.
I’m so happy to hear that everyone in the Philippines is cheering for me and supporting me. So thank you.
When asked what it meant to her that her triumphs were winning her new fans in Asia-Pacific, specifically in the Philippines, Fernandez said, “I’m so happy to hear that everyone in the Philippines is cheering for me and supporting me. So thank you.”
At the end of the day, Fernandez feels nothing but blessed for what she and her family had to go through over the years.
As she put it, "I'm just eternally grateful for everything that's happened to us."
Ohmer Bautista is a sports journalist who has covered local and international sporting events in the Philippines. The views expressed are his own.
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