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Half-Pinay Fernandez upsets Kerber at US Open

Read this in The Manila Times digital edition.

Leylah Fernandez AFP PHOTO


Leylah Fernandez is a self-described “happy-go-lucky girl” having the time of her life at Flushing Meadows, raising her fists, pumping her arms and riling up crowds while beating two past US Open champions to reach her first Grand Slam quarterfinal.

A day before her 19th birthday, the unseeded left-hander from Canada grabbed the last five games to eliminate 2016 title winner Angelique Kerber 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-2 on Sunday (Monday in Manila), demonstrating that an earlier upset of defending champion Naomi Osaka was certainly no fluke.

With grit and guile, plus a veteran’s poise in the face of big deficits against much more accomplished opponents, Fernandez is displaying strokes and a demeanor that left Kerber offering this assessment: “She can go really far in the next few years.”

How about over the next week?

There’s no time like the present for the teens in tennis: Also into the quarterfinals with a win Sunday was Carlos Alcaraz, an 18-year-old from Spain who became the youngest man to get that far at the US Open since 1963 by outlasting his 32-year-old foe, 141st-ranked qualifier Peter Gojowczyk of Germany, 5-7, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 6-0.

Alcaraz now plays No. 12 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime, a 21-year-old from Canada who reached his second straight major quarterfinal by defeating Frances Tiafoe of the US 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (6), 6-4 with the help of 24 aces.

Ask Fernandez for the secret to her success, and she repeatedly mentions two factors. One is being sure to enjoy her time on court. The other is support from family, because her father, who is from Ecuador, her mother, who is Filipino Canadian, and her sisters “have definitely kept the joy for me.”

She credits Dad – who coaches her and has been offering instructions in daily phone calls while back home, taking care of a younger sibling – and Mom – who is leading the cheers with other family members and Fernandez’s fitness trainer in courtside seats – with teaching a valuable lesson that has nothing to do with tennis.

They made sure to emphasize, Fernandez said, that “you can’t take things too seriously, you’ve got to be mature but at the same time just be a kid, let loose, have fun, eat chocolate when you want to, and just have fun, watch movies, go past your bedtime.”

“I was honestly tired in the third set,” Fernandez acknowledged. “But with that thought, I was telling myself, like, ‘If I’m tired, she must be exhausted.'”

Now Fernandez, who only once had been as far as the third round at a major tournament until now, will meet No. 5 seed Elina Svitolina in the quarterfinals.

Another women’s matchup Tuesday will be No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka against 2021 French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova, who beat two-time Grand Slam champ Garbiñe Muguruza 6-3, 7-6 (4) after taking a late medical timeout and needing help to leave the court when the topsy-turvy match ended.

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