19-Year-Old Leylah Fernandez Is Captivating U.S. Open Watchers

Sep 8, 2021
Originally published on September 9, 2021 9:54 am

Updated September 8, 2021 at 11:51 AM ET

Nineteen-year-old Leylah Fernandez of Canada is in the spotlight at the U.S. Open in New York.

She's headed to Thursday's semifinals after beating yet another star player, Elina Svitolina, after besting Grand Slam champions Naomi Osaka and Angelique Kerber.

Fernandez, who turned 19 on Monday, is the youngest woman to reach the U.S. Open semifinals since Maria Sharapova in 2005.

A U.S. Open recap described Fernandez as having "a veteran-like ability to reset at the crucial moments."

Fernandez, the daughter of an Ecuadorian father and Filipino-Canadian mother, told ESPN she credits her dad for inspiration. He's been coaching her since she was 6 years old.

"Today he told me to go out there, have fun, fight for every ball, fight for every point," she said. " 'Today's your first quarterfinals, don't make it your last. Don't make it your last match over here. Fight for your dream.' "

She's already beat two former U.S. Open champions, and will face off against a third on Thursday, Aryna Sabalenka. (Sabalenka won in women's doubles in 2019.)

Watch highlights from her quarterfinal match here:

YouTube

Folks are taking notice:



This story originally appeared on the Morning Edition live blog.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NOEL KING, HOST:

At every major tennis tournament, a rising star has a chance to become, well, a risen star. This year, it's Leylah Fernandez. She's Canadian, and she turned 19 on Sunday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Moments of magical inspiration from the Canadian - brings her to match point.

(SOUNDBITE OF HITTING TENNIS BALLS, CHEERING)

KING: Last night, she became the youngest woman to reach the U.S. Open semifinals in 16 years after beating the heavy favorite, Elina Svitolina, in three sets.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The daughter of an Ecuadorian father, a Filipino Canadian mother, Fernandez told ESPN she credits her dad for inspiration.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LEYLAH FERNANDEZ: Today, he told me to go out there, have fun, fight for every ball, fight for every point. Today's your first quarterfinals. Don't make it your last. Don't make it your last match over here. Fight for your dream.

(CHEERING)

MARTIN: Leylah's dad has been coaching her since she was 6 years old. He says he was inspired by Richard Williams, Venus and Serena's dad who coached them. She has beat two former U.S. Open champions so far. She'll face a third in the semifinal tomorrow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.