Leylah Fernandez budding tennis star
By Al S. Fernandez
LEYLAH Fernandez is the latest budding tennis star to burst into the global stage with Filipino blood running in her veins.
Let’s raise a glass.
Even if Leylah lost last weekend’s championship showdown for the U.S. Open, the year’s grandest tennis event alongside the three other majors in Australia, France and Wimbledon, she won hearts worldwide.
For, before bowing to Britain’s Emma Raducanu, 6-4, 6-3, Leylah had made herself a virtual certified Grand Slam champion as she beat a couple of majors winners on her way to the Finals.
Leylah’s remarkable run of six straight wins to set up the title clash against Raducanu included victories over Japan’s Naomi Osaka, the defending champion and four-time Grand Slam winner.
And to prove that her conquest of Osaka, the world’s highest paid female athlete today with a net worth of $25 million, Leylah would next dismiss Germany’s Angelique Kerber, the three-time Grand Slam champion and the 2016 U.S. Open winner.
To complete her fairytale odyssey, Leylah had to overpower Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina in the semifinals to barge into the Finals and arrange an all-teen titular battle in 22 years.
In contesting the 2021 U.S. Open trophy, Fernandez, 19, and Raducanu, 18, duplicated the first all-teen crown clash in 1999 that saw Serena Williams, then 17, defeat Martina Hingis, 18.
That victory triggered the start of Williams’ collection of 23 majors, one shy of Margaret Court’s all-time best of 24 Slams.
Williams is 40 and remains active, while Hingis has long retired.
In defeat last Sunday, Leylah Fernandez was magnanimous: “Emma played great tennis today. I thank the New York crowd for being so supportive. I hope to be back next year, and hope to bring home the right trophy.”
The crowd roared.
Is Leylah related to my buloy, the late, lamented and former Dagupan City mayor Al Fernandez?
No. Leylah’s father, Jorge, is a retired professional soccer player from Ecuador. He is married to Irene, the daughter of Filipino immigrants to Toronto, Canada.
They were of modest means. When Leylah was 10, her mother moved to California to work full-time.
“I grew up almost not knowing much about my Mom,” said Leylah. “When she came home visiting, I thought I was seeing a stranger although she looked someone special.”
When she was 13, they were reunited as family and moved to Boynton Beach, Florida, in pursuit of Leylah’s flourishing tennis career.
With her father as her coach, Leylah persevered to achieve her dream—no matter that one of her school teachers tried to dissuade her by saying: “You will never go far in tennis.”
Said Leylah, who won $1.5 million as runner-up: “I turned that into inspiration.”
Isn’t early failures the mother of success?
So, don’t be surprised if Leylah Fernandez would soon emerge as your full-fledged tennis celebrity on the world grandstand.
Remember: Michael Jordan failed 27-plus times before becoming basketball’s GOAT (Greatest Of All Time).
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