June 18, 2024

Open Court


ROLAND GARROS – Leylah Fernandez’s tennis seems inarguably better than it was, even a month ago.

And so, as she takes on the crafty Ons Jabeur for a spot in the round of 16 at Roland Garros Friday, will it be enough?

Fernandez has looked on a mission in her first two rounds, dispatching French wild card Jessika Ponchet and Chinese lefty Wang Xiyu with relative ease.

The win over Wang Thursday, having been held over by rain from Wedneday with Fernandez leading 5-3 in the first set, was expedient once they finally returned to the court late Thursday afternoon. In the end, it was 6-3, 6-4.

Here’s what it looked like.

“My performance was really good. I’m extremely happy with the way that I stayed focused in certain moments and pressure moments. And also with the rain delays, I was able to restart, reset, and then get back on court and just execute my game plan. And I was just happy with the way that I competed, the way that I fought. And at the end of the day, I’m just glad that I got to the next round,” Fernandez said.

The rain delays aren’t easy for anyone – even though tennis players have been dealing with them, in an outdoor sport, their entire lives.

But when the stakes are this high, every decision and every move made while waiting can be significant.

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Fernandez’s fellow Quebecer Félix Auger-Aliassime said after his second-round win over Henri Squire (which was delayed twice by rain) that one reason he came out very slowly in the second set, which was won by the qualifier Squire, was that he simply ate too much during the previous delay, as most expected it would be longer. And he was sluggish.

“It is hard. More mentally than physically because you don’t know when you can mentally relax a little bit. You kind of have to be switched on all the time. And then even when your coaches tell you ‘You can take a nap, close your eyes, we’ll be on top of things.’ for me, it’s like, no, I can’t fully switch off,” she said. “I need to be ready for whatever happens. Maybe a court change, maybe something happens. The referees make decisions in the back that we don’t know about and, you know, we’ll just have to adjust.”

Looking for a first win vs Jabeur

The 21-year-old Canadian’s head-to-head against Jabeur isn’t great at first glance.

But there’s a lot of hope there.

Jabeur first beat Fernandez at Flushing Meadows, during the “relocated” COVID edition of the Cincinnati hard-court event. A year later on those courts, Fernandez made the final.

The next year in Birmingham, Jabeur won in the second round, in a third-set tiebreak. Jabeur went ll the way to the title – her first career title, at age 26.

The most recent match was their only one on clay. And it came just a month ago in Madrid.





The conditions aren’t identical; Madrid has some altitude, and the ball flies faster. The conditions are considered faster in general – especially as the weather in Paris has been cool, dank and damp.

But Fernandez had her chances in that one.

And, as mentioned, she’s playing better now than she was there, in her first clay-court tournament of the season.

“I would say that my tennis has improved. But it’s not only just my tennis, it’s also the mental side. There’s a lot more confidence that has been built up from Madrid all the way to now. Physically, too, I’m feeling great, more comfortable on clay, also feeling stronger. So I’m super happy with the way that I am right now at this very moment,” Fernandez said.

“Playing Ons is a very hard match because it’s very unexpected. She gives you different looks every single time. But the one thing that I do know is that every single time I’m getting closer and closer to figuring it out. And a lot of our matches are closed. It is a huge battle,” she added.

It’s a good thing that Fernandez didn’t need too long to wrap things up on Thursday.

Jabeur, scheduled for a roofed court on Wednesday, finished her match – a tough three-setter against Camila Osorio in conditions she said were damp and humid. That made the ball fluff up, and the velocity slow down.

But she’s had two full days to rest up.

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