Leylah Annie Fernandez, tennis player (born 6 September 2002 in Montreal, QC). Leylah Fernandez was ranked the No. 1 junior girls tennis player in the world in 2019, after winning the French Open girls title that year. In 2021, she became the sixth tennis player to receive the Bobbie Rosenfeld Award as Canada’s female athlete of the year. She won her first WTA Tournament in Monterrey, Mexico, and made it to the final of the US Open after defeating such stars as Naomi Osaka, Angelique Kerber and Elina Svitolina. Fernandez became only the fourth Canadian to reach a Grand Slam singles final, after Eugenie Bouchard, Milos Raonic and Bianca Andreescu.
Leylah Fernandez is the middle child of Irene Exevea and Jorge Fernandez. Leylah’s older sister Jodeci is a dentist in Ohio, while her younger sister Bianca Jolie is also a tennis player. Leylah’s mother is of Filipino descent, while her father moved from Ecuador to Canada as a child, becoming a Canadian citizen at age 14. (See Latin American Canadians.) He later returned to Ecuador to play professional soccer.
Born into a multicultural family in Montreal, Fernandez is fluent in English, French and Spanish. She started playing tennis at age five and started competing at age 10. She also participated in volleyball, soccer and track and field. A formative experience occurred when an elementary school teacher discouraged her from playing tennis. “A teacher told me to stop playing tennis, you’ll never make it, just focus on school,” Fernandez has said. “I’m glad she told me that because every day I have that phrase in my head saying, ‘I’m going to keep going, push through, prove to her everything I’ve dreamed of, I’m going to achieve.’”
However, at age seven, Fernandez was cut from Tennis Quebec’s development program. According to Jorge, who became her coach, a local tennis club considered Leylah too small to succeed. Jorge read books about tennis, watched tennis videos, and used his experience as a soccer player to help Leylah develop speed and agility to compensate for her smaller size. (Her adult height is 5-foot-6.) Jorge also became the primary caregiver when Leylah’s mother, Irene, accepted a well-paid job in California when Leylah was 10, which separated the family for several years. “Every time I saw her, it was like seeing a stranger,” Leylah said. “Every time I was on court, I had the focus and mentality that said, ‘I’m going to do everything in my power to be closer to my dreams, so we can be together again.’”
By the time Fernandez was 12, the entire family had moved to Florida. Fernandez was able to play tennis year-round in Boynton Beach. As a teenager, she briefly returned to Montreal to study at the Tennis Canada National Training Center.
Deciding which country to represent internationally was a difficult decision for Fernandez. The family briefly considered moving to Ecuador, but decided not to. Canada was Leylah’s country of birth, and it was Quebec that gave Jorge and Irene the best place to begin a family, so Fernandez chose to represent Canada.
Fernandez’s first win at the International Tennis Federation (ITF) level came at age 12 at the 2015 ITF World Junior Tennis Girls Finals in Prostejov, Czech Republic. In April of 2016, Fernandez reached her first junior final at the Messika Open in Israel, but lost to Israel’s Lina Glushko 6–2, 6–4. She then reached the Alex Podolsky ITF Junior Tournament final a week later but lost to Israel’s Nicole Nadel 7–6, 6–1.
In November of 2017, Fernandez returned to Israel and won two ITF Junior Tournaments: the Matan Gafniel Raanana Open and the HAP International Junior Tournament.
In March 2018, Fernandez won her first junior title on clay, defeating Clara Tauson of Denmark 6–3, 7–6 in the final of a girls’ tournament in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Fernandez rose steadily in the junior rankings over the next 15 months. She became the top-ranked player in spring 2019 by defeating Carole Monnet of France 6–2, 6–1 in the final of a clay court tournament in Belgium. She then won the French Open Junior Girls’ Championship, beating American Emma Navarro 6–3, 6–2 in the final.
Senior Women's Tour (2018-22)
After switching to the senior tour, Fernandez was ranked No. 371 in the world. She won the first Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) match of her career at the National Bank Cup in Quebec City on 10 September 2018. In 2019, Fernandez participated in WTA events in Canada and Japan, and lost in the first round on each occasion. However, she won the singles and doubles titles at the National Bank Challenger in Gatineau, Quebec.
Fernandez finished 2020 with three wins at Grand Slam events. She beat two-time Grand Slam finalist Vera Zvonareva 6–4, 7–5 in the first round of the US Open. She then defeated Magda Linette 1–6, 6–2, 6–3, and Polona Hercog 6–4, 3–6, 6–1 in the first two rounds of the French Open. By the end of 2020, Fernandez was ranked No. 88 in the world.
Fernandez had a breakout season in 2021. She began the year with an impressive 6–3, 6–1 win over 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens in the first round of the Grampians Trophy in Melbourne. Fernandez then won her first WTA event in Monterrey, Mexico, beating Viktorija Golubic 6–1, 6–4 in the final.
At the 2021 US Open, Fernandez had a string of unexpected victories. After beating Ana Konjuh of Croatia 7–6, 6–2 in round one, and Kaia Kanepi of Estonia 7–5, 7–5, in round two, Fernandez faced four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka of Japan. Fernandez came away with a 5–7, 7–6, 6–4 victory in round three. Fernandez dominated the tiebreak 7–2, before winning the third set.
Fernandez then beat three-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber 4–6, 7–6, 6–2 in round four; the fifth seed Elina Svitolina 6–3, 3–6, 7–6 in the quarter-finals; and the second seed Aryna Sabalenka 7–6, 4–6, 6–4 in the semifinals. In the final, Fernandez faced another unseeded teenager in Emma Raducanu of Great Britain, but lost 6–4, 6–3. Fernandez finished 2021 with a 25–17 record and was ranked No. 24 in the world. She received the Bobbie Rosenfeld Award as Canada’s female athlete of the year.
To begin 2022, Fernandez successfully defended her title in Monterrey, beating Camila Osorio of Colombia in the final, 6–7, 6–4, 7–6. In April 2022, Fernandez dominated play for Canada at a Billie Jean Cup match in Vancouver in April. Her two wins helped Canada advance to the Cup finals, to be held in November 2022.