Leylah Fernandez: The Rising Filipina Tennis Superstar

By: Matthew Du
Leylah Fernandez The Rising Filipina Tennis Superstar

It’s quite rare to see a young Filipino succeed on a stage as large as international tennis. Of course, that isn’t to say that there haven’t been any exceptions. We have, for example, arguably the greatest pound-for-pound fighter in Manny Pacquiao, one of the most prolific chess players to have ever graced the stage in Wesley So, and arguably the greatest pool player in Efren “Bata” Reyes.

More recently, Filipino Olympians have made waves in the sports world, with Hidilyn Diaz and Carlo Paalam bringing home the gold and silver in their respective sports. It was pandemonium when they won their matches and the entire country celebrated the first Olympic gold that we’ve ever won.

photo of a tennis racket and ball

In the same way, Leylah Fernandez has placed it upon her shoulders to represent her multicultural ethnic background.

The young prodigy has made a name for herself on the internet as one of the rising tennis talents, regardless of race. The young tennis star has made waves as she’s beaten some of the top tier talents in tennis, including the likes of Naomi Osaka. Get to know the Half Filipina star in this full-blown article that covers her life, accolades, and future ambitions.

What is Tennis?

Perhaps there’s no better way to describe young Leylah Fernandez than through the simple word: Tennis. For as long as she can remember, she’s held a racket in her arm and ran up and down the court, chasing after every loose ball.

Tennis is a game where players, either playing singles or duos, strike a ball with rackets over a net stretched across the court. Ultimately, the goal of the match is to simply get the ball to bounce twice your opponent’s court without it bouncing on yours. Oh, and make sure that it’s not out.

photo of a person playing tennis

The game is an Olympic sport and is played at all levels of society and all ages. Because of the unique attribution where anyone who could hold a racket can play, even those in wheelchairs could participate.

Going into the greater specifics of the game would not be helpful in today’s article so I hope that the brief history and explanation I made above would be enough for now.

The Tournaments

Perhaps, then, you’d be more interested in figuring out how the tournaments in Tennis work. These are often organized by gender and number of players. The common configurations of the tournaments include men’s singles, women’s singles, and doubles, where two players play on each side of the net.

At the same time, tournaments could also be organized for specific age groups, with upper age limits for youth and lower age limits for senior players.

But what’s the prize? What’s the end goal of all this? and what is the most coveted Grand Slam?

Well, as it turns out, every single professional in the tennis world aims for one thing: to win a grand slam. The four Grand Slam tournaments are considered to be the most prestigious tennis events in the world. They are held annually and comprise, chronologically, the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open.

Apart from the Olympic Games, David Cup, Fed Cup, and the Hopman Cup, these are the only tournaments regulated by the International Tennis Federation, better known as the ITF. Subsequently, these tournaments also carry larger prize funds than other tour events and are worth double the number of ranking points to the champion than the Master 1000, for men, and Premier Events, for women.

photo of a person playing tennis in action

On top of this, the Grand Slam tournaments also draw in more players than any other professional tennis tournament, bringing in 128 players from around the globe. As a bonus, Grand Slam tournaments are the only tour events that have mixed doubles contests.

Regardless, the Grand Slam tournaments have seen some of the best male and female tennis players. The likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams, and Steffi Graf have all quite literally cemented themselves into the tennis hall of fame and constantly make a case for the greatest players to have ever lived.

Unfortunately, their time has passed and many of these names are either retired o on the decline. Who’s looking to step up and become the next tennis great?

Let’s talk about Leylah Fernandez.

Leylah Fernandez

photo of Leylah Hernandez

Photo taken from: goodnewspilipinas.com

Leylah Annie Fernandez was born on September 6, 2002. A Canadian by title, Fernandez is Filipina-Ecuadorian by blood as she was born to a Filipino-Canadian mother and Ecuadorian father, who also serves as her coach. Despite being raised in Canada, the family moved years ago to Florida, where Leylah Fernandez and her younger sister now train.

Many times she recounted her roots and attributes a lot of her success to her heritage, as either a Canadian, Ecuadorian, or Filipino.

“It just really shows that regardless of your background, if you work hard and you have the support, you can get there,” says Fernandez

Early Years

Born in Montreal Quebec, her father Jorge is from Ecuador and a former football player. Her mother Irene is Filipino-Canadian by descent. Leylah is the second of three children where her older sister, Jodeci, is a dentist while her younger sister is also an aspiring tennis professional.

In her Junior Career, Fernandez entered the Australian Open girl’s singles final, where she lost to the top-seeded Clara Tauson. By June 8, 2019, Fernandez had defeated Emma Navarro to become the first Canadian female winner of the junior Grand Slam title since Eugenie Bouchard won it almost over a decade ago in the 2012 Wimbledon Champions. The Fil-Canadian was on a hot streak that year yet she still eventually fell to number 1 seed Clara Tauson.

Love For Tennis

Fernandez had enjoyed a plethora of different sports options. She dabbled in different sports and different teams, more notably sports like football, track and field, and volleyball but clearly, it was tennis that she enjoyed the most.

What’s interesting though is that even though Leylah’s father did not have any tennis background, he still dedicated himself to becoming Leylah’s first coach and used his experience as a professional athlete in football to help elevate Leylah’s game. While he learned the game over time, it’s simple stories like this that show the commitment and passion that Fernandez and her family has.

photo of a bouncing tennis ball

Imagine not knowing anything about a game yet insisting to be your daughter’s first coach and then picking up the game as you go along. With her father’s experience by her side, it was only a matter of time before young Leylah Fernandez would find a way into the professional tennis scene. The father had mapped out ways for young Fernandez to develop her techniques and improve her fitness.

Perhaps the best part of this early story is the fact that the two had absolutely no fear or sense of regret. Despite being cut from the provincial development program in Montreal at only 7 years old, Fernandez persevered and worked hard to get to where she is today.

Rise To Stardom

By 2019 and only at 17 years old, Fernandez burst into the professional circuit and captured her first professional title in the Gatineau Challenger after defeating one Carson Branstine. She then made her women’s Grand Slam debut in the 2020 Australian Open but got knocked out of the opening round of the main draw. The Fil-Canadian then rebounded with a third-round finish in the 2020 French Open and finished off her 2020 campaign by finishing in the second round of the 2020 US Open.

While this may not all be that impressive to the average reader. Let’s put this into perspective. The Grand Slam tournaments only invite around 128 players from around the world. That’s lower than the top 0.1% of every single person who plays tennis in the entire world. At the young age of 17, not only did the young Fernandez get an invite but she actually stood her ground and made her mark as one of the best young tennis players out there.

Her highlight?

She ended Naomi Osaka’s run in the 2021 US Open and beat her in three sets in the third round of the tournament. Not only did she end Naomi Osaka’s US Open run but she’s also been climbing up the ranks with wins over world tennis stars such as 2017 US Open titlist Sloane Stephens and former World No. 4 Belinda Bencic.

Registering these big wins over the biggest names in the world’s brightest stage has propelled Leylah to internet stardom, with legions upon legions of internet fans making themselves known. The Philippines and the Filipino people have always been notorious for being extremely supportive and active on social media. Whenever someone with any relation to the Philippines does something amazing, then you can easily expect thousands of shared articles and photos of yourself to be circulating in Filipino Facebook groups.

The same thing happened with Manny Pacquiao. Whenever he’d fight, barangays and entire cities would close down. Homes would be shut as everyone stayed indoors to watch his fights. It’s truly a spectacle to see the sheer amount of support that someone like Manny Pacquiao got even without the Internet. Through sheer word of mouth, Manny became a household name and every single person in the Philippines knew his name. Though that took years to happen, the advent of the internet helps to speed up this timeframe – giving people like Leylah a platform to grow their audience and expand their influence

photo of a tennis ball on a tennis racket

Although I doubt that that’s Fernandez’ goal with her announcing her love for her Filipino heritage and roots, it should be reassuring for her to know that she has an entire nation behind her. More than that, I believe that her success story was made even more remarkable because she was consistently represented to be the underdog, especially during her run in the 2021 US Open final. She faced defending champion Naomi Osaka and beat her, she beat out former world No. 1 Angelique Kerber, and a whole plethora of top-seeded players to reach her first major final. At only 19 years old, she has shown that she has the ability to compete with the best.

Speaking of competing with the best, let’s talk a little bit about Crown Asia and our homes and lots for sale, which we’ve delivered for the past 25 years with stellar success. Like Fernandez, we didn’t start out big, we had to fight claw, tooth, and nail to make it to where we are today – as one of the most distinguished home developers in the Philippines. We’ve made a commitment to be the best and that’s exactly what we set out to do, as we bring you homes that inspire you to be creative while building on a persona of being relaxed. If you need a house and lot for sale, make sure to check out Crown Asia.

Moving Forward

Moving forward, however, we believe that it’s safe to say that Leylah Fernandez has an entire nation behind her back as she continues her bid to become the greatest tennis player in the world. While she’s proud of all her nationalities and cultural background, I’m sure that she’s aware of the traction and fame she got in Filipino social media circles.

She’s only 20 years old and I’m sure that if it were anyone else, then the success would have easily gotten to their heads. Hopefully, this doesn’t hold true for Leylah. As a competitor, she seems inspired to constantly do her best. To train, to review films, and attend tournaments.

As a Filipino, I hope she continues to represent the country and do well in any of her endeavors. It’s a great representation as she’s one of the many Filipino athletes representing our culture on the world stage. Not that she’s just another Filipino athlete, but I genuinely believe that Filipinos really haven’t been making a name for themselves in major sports. There’s a genuine lack of representation that Leylah Fernandez now fulfills.

Related Blog: Yuka Saso, the Youngest US Open Winner: A Filipina in the Golf Community

Related Blog