June 12, 2024

Open Court

MORE TENNIS THAN YOU'LL EVER NEED

As Leylah Fernandez and Emma Navarro prepared to meet for the third time this year – with the biggest stakes, a WTA 1000 quarterfinal spot – here’s a look back at the first time they met.

(UPDATE: Fernandez rolled over Navarro by basically the same score, and is into the Guadalajara quarters).

It was 2019, and 16-year-old Leylah Fernandez, who had reached the Australian Open junior final, was looking to go one better in the Roland Garros junior final.

Fernandez was the No. 1 seed; Navarro, at 18 nearly a year and a half older and in her last year of junior eligibility, was the No. 8 seed.

The semifinals were fire; Fernandez eliminated No. 3 seed Camila Osorio 6-2, 6-4. Meanwhile, Navarro beat a No. 5 seed who hadn’t begun to make much noise yet – Zheng Qinwen – by a score of 2-6, 6-1, 6-4.

Navarro and parther Chloe Beck (who ended up winning the title) had already eliminated Fernandez and partner Mélodie Collard in the doubles.

It was a sunny day – but it was cold. And windy. But not much seemed to bother Fernandez that day.

In the end the final went to the Canadian, 6-3, 6-2. It was close at times, but also not that close.

Navarro was very much on the junior track still, and headed to a stint in college tennis before trying her luck in the pros.

Fernandez didn’t have that luxury; the junior tour at the highest level is crazy expensive, and she had already been out there in the trenches of the $15K ITFs for a few years. This was her final junior tournament; she made it to No. 1 a few months later.

Here’s part of Fernandez’s post-victory press conference. In three languages.

Fast forward to 2021 – and 2023

A little more than two years later, as she turned 19, Fernandez reached the final of the US Open. At that time, Navarro – who had received a few wild cards into Charleston because her father owns the tournament – was ranked well outside the top 300.

But to each their path.

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As they meet in Guadalajara today, Navarro, after reaching the final in San Diego last weekend, just jumped into the top 50 at a career best No. 49 and is the higher-ranked player.

Fernandez, crawling her way back after her 2022 Roland Garros quarterfinal points came off in June and dropped her nearly out of the top 100, is ranked No. 74.

Fernandez already is back inside the top 70 with her work so far this week, and and could rise another 10 spots if she beats Navarro.

Navarro is already slated to move up about six spots, and inside the top 40 in the live rankings if she can beat Fernandez.

1-1 in the pros

The two have already met twice in 2023.

The first time came at Indian Wells. And the second in the first round of qualifying in Cincinnati last month.

That one was a tough turnaround for Fernandez, who reached the third round before extremely supportive home crowds in Montreal – only to have to turn around a few days later and hit the qualifying.

Navarro defeated No. 4 seed Madison Keys in the second round of Guadalajara late Tuesday night. That felt like it wasn’t a huge surprise, given her great form coming in.

It was the first match for Keys, who had a first-round bye. And the altitude will make the ball fly, which is always a challenge for a hard-and-flat hitter.

But it finished somewhat late. So Navarro’s turnaround was a lot shorter.

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