For a professional tennis player, a racket is the tool of the trade — the best hardware that pays the bills. But this summer, Leylah Fernandez had to suffer a painful separation from her Babolat Pure Aero for a few weeks this summer.
I tried to return to the tennis court and my father said, ‘No. Don’t do that, Fernandez said Saturday from Toronto. I accepted that this was going to take a while — that I should just hang my rackets up a bit, hide them in the closet, try not to look at them.
Toronto draw: Loaded top quarter with Swiatek, Serena, Azarenka, Osaka, Muguruza
It was one of those moments that I had to master.
When you’re only 19, patience is rarely a virtue. After a grade 3 stress fracture to her right foot at Roland Garros, the US Open finalist struggled to manage the emotions associated with a serious injury. Like Naomi Osaka, Bianca Andreescu, Sofia Kenin and other colleagues who recently learned during long sabbaticals, it’s not easy.
It’s been a roller coaster since Roland Garros, Fernandez said. All my emotions. I was sad, heartbroken after a few days and then I came home again. And then I got more bad news from the doctor that it was a stress fracture and you shouldn’t put weight on it.
The happiest moment was when I could take off my boot. The doctor said, You can take off your boat, but you’re not ready for the DC exhibit. So I was happy for five seconds, sad for the next 20 minutes.
Fernandez was even happier a few days ago when her doctor gave her the green light to return to the competition after more than two months of absence from the competition. She is the number 13 seed in the loaded field at the National Bank Open presented by Rogers and will play a qualifier in the first round. The good news? The Montreal native is back home in Canada, surrounded by well-known fans, family and friends.
Toronto: Results | Drawing | Order of play
The bad? She’s in the absurdly talented top quarter of the draw — along with No.1 Iga Swiatek, 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams, multi-major winners Victoria Azarenka, GarbieMuguruza and Osaka, as well as Olympic singles gold medalist Belinda Bencic.
I feel great, happy to be back on track, Fernandez said. The foot is great. It feels like a brand new foot. We’ve just tried to accept the situation and I think we’ve done a good job of understanding that this is a bad time. But at least we spent this bad moment as a family and saw it as some sort of silver lining.
There were a few weeks of jumping up and down on her left foot, a few more when walking was restricted, and again with a protective boot. Fernandez enjoyed the bonus time with her family, the opportunity to watch more television than usual and — this is a first — the satisfaction that comes from reading a good book.
I used to be stubborn and didn’t want to read books, she said. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reading and enjoying it more — it was absolutely surprising.
She has always been a fan of true detective crime stories on television and now reads the series Girl, Missing.
I always try to resolve the matter before the show ends, Fernandez said. Usually I’m wrong. Using a thought process, trying to figure things out, the same way I would on the tennis court, solving problems.
Fernandez is part of a formidable group of players born after the turn of the century that is transforming tennis. Swiatek, who won 37 consecutive matches earlier this year, was born in 2001. Emma Raducanu, the winner of that US Open championship match, and Fernandez both came along in 2002. Coco Gauff, a French Open finalist this year at age 18, was born in 2004.
According to Fernandez, their individual successes help create a collective synergy that they can all tap into.
We’ve all been through that phase of juniors, losing [WTA matches] and come back, Fernandez said. I followed him from afar and saw Coco doing great things, Iga doing great things, and that definitely motivated me: ‘Okay, I want to do that.
So it’s a great dynamic between all of us. Because we see it as an opportunity to improve the sport and motivate other young girls to achieve their own dreams. Not necessarily in tennis, but in other professions. It could be football, engineering, whatever they decide to do.
It wasn’t that long ago that Fernandez tried to fulfill her tennis dream. Most of her 2019 season was spent playing ITF tournaments in Canada and in places like Waco, Texas, Claremont, California and Bonita Springs, California. But in August, the 16-year-old was given a wild card to the main draw in Toronto. It ended quickly, with a 6-0, 6-1 defeat to Marie Bouzkova.
At the time, I was just in awe of seeing all these professionals, Fernandez said. I remember a moment when I saw Venus walking past me. I remember thinking, ‘OMG, Venus Williams just passed me. And then share court with Simona Halep. I was nervous. I didn’t know how to talk to her during the doubles. It was one of those introductions to the tour.
Reaching the US Open final a year ago was a turning point for Fernandez, and she is eager to achieve similar results. It’s easy to forget that she reached the quarterfinals at Roland Garros earlier this year before that foot injury occurred. Her patience will be tested again as she tries to regain her footing among the elite players.
I think I’m just going to try and enjoy my time on the track and, secondly, see how I feel physically and mentally, Fernandez said. Because practice I feel great, but a tennis match is a whole new world. Hopefully everything goes well.
We can just get better tournament by tournament. Hopefully, by the US Open, I’ll be ready. But that’s in a long, long time.
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