April 23, 2024

Open Court

MORE TENNIS THAN YOU'LL EVER NEED

MIAMI – Leylah Fernandez was quickly up 5-0 over Colombian qualifier Emiliana Arango in her opening round at the Miami Open.

Then it all started to go south.

Somehow, the 21-year-old Canadian managed to turn things around. And while the 6-4, 6-2 score, in an hour and 17 minutes, looked on the surface like one of the rare routine victories in Fernandez’s up-and-down 2024, it was anything but.

The nerves hit, in a way Fernandez struggled to even explain. They just … did.

How often have you seen Fernandez drop that serious “all-business” face and show anything but positive emotion on the court? It’s awfully rare.

It looked like this.

Fortunately, her opponent was game but overmatched. And in the end, Fernandez got the job done and will face No. 5 seed Jessica Pegula for the first time on Sunday.

Here’s what she said about it afterwards.

Papa back in the saddle

Fernandez has gotten used to being the favorite a lot of the time, when she took the court.

But in this particular venue, where the South American players get broad support, there were certainly plenty of Colombian fans on hand.

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It was not, as Fernandez said, about 80 per cent for her opponent. Fernandez had plenty of support, including a group of fans from Québec who were encouraging her in French.

But the way things were going, it must have seemed that way, at times. The voices against her came through a lot more loudly than the voices for her.

It was the first time Fernandez’s coach and father, Jorge, has been at a tournament all season.

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He was … involved, although at times he had to call his daughter’s name two or three times to get her attention.

She said later that she wanted to calm herself down before she turned to him for some guidance.

Here are some shots from the match.

Jessica Pegula up next

It will be the first time that Fernandez and Pegula will play against each other, a fact that somewhat surprised the 30-year-old American.

She said that it had been quite a long time since they even practiced together.

“Obviously, she’s a great competitor, great athlete, and I know that I’m going to have to go out there and beat her on that day, and it’s not going to be easy. So it’s going to be a tough match. Always tricky playing a lefty. She’s familiar with the conditions down here, lives down here as well,” Pegula said.

“I wouldn’t say we’re – right this second, maybe today – playing the best tennis of our careers, but I think we’re capable of that. And I think that’s always really dangerous. Both of us have a lot of experience in those situations. We know how to work through matches, and we both know how to compete through those circumstances,” she added. “So it makes it tricky because it’s not like you’re playing someone that maybe has never done it before, has never been in that position or had those big wins. So I think that’s what will make it pretty tough.”

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