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Canada's newest tennis star falls just short

Columnist Bruce Penton writes about Leylah-Annie Fernandez
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Canada has another tennis superstar.

Leylah-Annie Fernandez, a Quebecker who turned 19 during the U.S. Open in New York, shocked the tennis world by coming within a whisker of winning one of the most prestigious tournaments on the tennis calendar, losing 6-4, 6-3 in the final to Britain’s Emma Raducanu.

Says the Canadian sports fan: “Another tennis star?”

Yes, somebody in the inner bowels of Tennis Canada is doing something right, for every year, it seems, another Canadian hits the headlines for tennis greatness. Two years ago, it was Toronto’s Bianca Andreescu seemingly coming out of nowhere to beat Serena Williams in the U.S. Open final. A few years before that, it was Eugenie Bouchard (who has since fallen off the map). On the men’s side, Canada has two top-20 players, including Felix Auger-Aliassime, who made it all the way to the U.S. Open semi-finals before losing to Russia’s Daniil Medvedev.

But it was Fernandez, the lefty who plays at an unusually quick pace, who stole the hearts of Canadian tennis fans for almost two weeks. She’s a tiny (5-foot-6, about 100 pounds) dynamo who not only has tennis smarts, but personality galore. En route to the championship game, she shed world-class opponents as if she were swatting away easy lobs, dispatching world No. 3 Naomi Osaka, three-time Grand Slam winner Angelique Kerber, world No. 5 Elina Svitolina and, in the semi-final, world No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka. 

Fernandez’s post-match, post-victory on-court interviews were anything but bland. She held nothing close to her vest, showing the stadium crowd and television viewers that her enthusiasm is real. 

Coming into the Open, she was ranked 70th in the world, so making the final was not only a surprise, but almost completely out of the blue. The 18-year-old Raducanu, though, was ranked even lower at the start of the tournament; it was the first all-teen U.S. Open women’s final since 1999 and a rare final featuring relative unknowns.

What did Fernandez learn during the magical two weeks of the U.S. Open?

“It's helped me open my eyes that I have no limit to my potential, that I can go three sets against these players, I can play against these top players, and I can win against these top players,”  Fernandez said in a USA Today story. “My mental toughness, that's been a huge plus for me. I'm just extremely happy with what I've achieved this week.”

But there’s still one more step to take. That could come next year, or the year after, or the year …

  • Jeff Patterson on Twitter, showing off his fandom for tennis star Leylah Fernandez: “If Leylah-Annie wins this thing, I’m naming my daughter after her. And my daughter is 18. She’ll just have to deal with the change…”
  • Patti Dawn Swansson, on Twitter, about Canada’s newest tennis sensation: “Leylah Fernandez. Delightful. She looks like she could fit inside a fanny pack, but she sure plays big-girl tennis.”
  • Headline at fark.com: “Chinese gymnast Zhu Xueying claims her gold medal is peeling, revealing delicious tasting chocolate underneath.”
  • Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle, on Twitter after seeing the Dodgers playing in their solid blue, top to bottom uniforms: “Hey, Dodgers: Jiffy Lube workers just called, they want their uniforms back.”
  • Comedy guy Steve Burgess of Vancouver, on Twitter, bringing some sports into the political leaders’ televised debate: “When will Trudeau mention the Habs making the Cup finals under his rule? I mean, boom, knockout punch.”
  • Comedy writer Alex Kaseberg: "The Tampa Bay Times reports that Tom Brady got COVID-19 during the Super Bowl boat parade celebration where he threw the Lombardi trophy to another boat. That was also the day doctors learned consuming a lot of alcohol does not prevent catching the coronavirus.”
  • Comedy writer Brad Dickson of Omaha: “At halftime Illinois ran off the field into a tunnel reading ‘FAMILLY”’ and the BTN announcer described a complaining lineman as being ‘disheveled’ about a holding call. Who says football isn't for intellectuals?”
  • Bob Molinaro of pilot online.com (Hampton, Va.), musing that Derek Jeter may be just a tad overrated:  “Those who anoint him the game’s greatest shortstop have also strayed far enough off base to be tagged out.”
  • RJ Currie of sportsdeke.com: “According to Reuters, an Australian pig once drank 18 cans of beer, got into a fight with a cow before eventually passing out. It was made the official mascot of the NHL.”
  • Headline in theonion.com: ”Umpire Who Lost Count Of Strikes Hoping Batter Rips Off Some Foul Balls”
  • Another one from theonion.com: “Lance Armstrong's Publicity Team Playing Up The 1993 Norway Road Race Title He Still Has”

Care to comment? Email brucepenton2003@yahoo.ca

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication.