February 24, 2024

Abbie Galloway

As the 2021 U.S. Open boiled down to its close, one Canadian underdog provided an inspiring success story placing second in the prestigious grand slam tournament. Leylah Annie Fernandez, 19, said encouraging herself and believing in her skills was a major part of her success in the tournament.

Submitted photo of Caleb Kaytar alongside his dad, and coach, Mike.

“Today in this match,” she said in a press conference after her quarterfinal win against Elina Svitolina, “I was only thinking of trusting myself, trusting my game. After every point, win or lose, I would always tell myself to trust my game, go for my shots and just see where the ball goes.”

Fernandez set foot on the court for her final match Saturday at Flushing Meadows in Queens, New York. She faced off against Emma Raducanu, who got the better of the match winning two straight sets in a row. Fernandez, being a fan favourite throughout the tournament, was greeted by an eruption of cheering and applause as she stepped forward for her final on-court interview.

While Fernandez’s skills speak volumes on the court, what’s even more impressive is the age at which she’s achieved so much success. Born on Sept 6, 2002, she is barely 19 as a finalist in a major tennis competition. A thriving young woman promises a bright future for Women’s Tennis. She has inspired local tennis players and their families.

Caleb and Mike Kaytar, belonging to Courtside Tennis Academy in Guelph, are feeling hopeful and excited for the future of tennis.

“It makes me feel inspired by watching the growth, focus and effort that all of these athletes show at such a young age,” said Mike Kaytar. “As a parent, and coach of an aspiring young athlete, it is amazing to witness firsthand.”

Caleb also shared what this moment meant for him, providing him with satisfaction for all the hard work he has put into this sport.

“The younger generation of tennis athletes has grown dramatically, and the level is at an all-time high.  This inspires me to better my game every time I step on court.  The large amount of time I sacrifice is worth every minute!” he said.

So, when will Fernandez compete next? The answer cannot be known for certain, but Fernandez did have a hopeful goodbye after her final match. “I hope to be right back here in the finals, this time with a trophy. The right trophy.”

“I’m very proud of myself and the way I played these past two weeks,” said a teary-eyed Fernandez in her final interview, “and especially having the crowd packed, the New York crowd has been amazing. It’s definitely special for me to be here in the finals and having you all cheer me on.”

She continued to congratulate her opponent, as well as paying homage to the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Although Fernandez did not achieve the result she was hoping for, she had some incredible moments throughout her time playing in the U.S. Open.

The US Open was Fernandez’s first grand slam tournament, but she was already crushing the competition prior to that. Placing second at the Mexican Open in Acapulco, and first at the Monterrey Open.

Perhaps what’s more interesting than her career, is her life outside of the tennis court. Fernandez is trilingual, speaking Spanish, French, and English. She also enjoys puzzles and Salsa dancing aside from tennis. She was born in Montreal, Quebec but her farther and coach, Jorge Fernandez, is from Ecuador. Her mother is Filipino-Canadian.

During an interview with TSN, Jorge was asked what it means to represent Canada as an immigrant family.

“It means everything.” He paused as his emotions began to overwhelm him. He then explained how his family travelled to Canada with nothing and how proud he is to be where they are now, thanking Canada as well for opening its doors to them.

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