Big week for Canada’s Fernandez family

With four of the five top-ranked Canadian women not on the roster, this week’s crucial Fed Cup World Group I playoff tie in the Czech Republic is a great opportunity for 16-year-old Leylah Annie Fernandez.

The top-10 junior will be playing No. 2 singles for Canada. She’ll debut against Czech No. 1 Marketa Vondrousova Saturday in the second match, after Rebecca Marino plays another Fed Cup rookie, Karolina Muchova.

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Fernandez currently is at a career-high No. 376 in the WTA Tour singles rankings.

And just to be nominated to the squad – never mind see action – is already a great accomplishment.

But it’s not the only banner moment in the Fernandez family this week.

Fernandez’s little sister Bianca Jolie, who turned 15 in February and is her most frequent practice partner, made her pro tournament debut this week in Ecuador.

Want to start your pro career? Go to Guayaquil

We’re not sure exactly how Bianca Fernandez got into the ITF $15,000 event in Guayaquil. But it likely has something to do with the chaos going on inside the ITF World Tour at the moment.

Fernandez
(Tennis Canada/Roger Lauzon)

There are a lot of players out there who are having trouble finding tournaments to get into. So note to them: it appears this one is wide open.

Next week’s $15,000 in Bucaramanga, Colombia looks similar.

Bianca Fernandez wasn’t on the original Guayaquil entry list. The list contained 147 names before withdrawals. But of that long list, only one player, Fernanda Brito of Chile, had a WTA Tour ranking (at No. 547). Brito also entered as No. 1 in the ITF Tour rankings.

Only two of 21 main-draw accepted players showed failed to show. But there were only 12 signed up for a (theoretical) 32-player qualifying. It seems only eight of them showed up. So they all got direct entry into the main draw.

Add in the one junior-ranked player and three wild cards, and you have one spot remaining in the 32-player main draw.

Fernandez has no pro ranking of any kind; she had never played a pro-level event. But she got direct entry into the singles and the doubles. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of showing up. And the Fernandez sisters’ father and coach, Jorge, hails from Ecuador.

Acquits herself well in debut

In the first round, Fernandez came up against American Akilah James. James, 26, is an experienced ITF campaigner whose career high was No. 678 back in 2017.

Fernandez
 (Tennis Canada/Roger Lauzon)

She who played collegiately at South Carolina State and the University of Arizona, and has been out on the low-level ITF circuit for the last three years.

Fernandez came close. James won, 1-6, 6-1, 7-6 (3). 

Not as precocious as big sis

The sisters, some 18 months apart, could pass for twinsies – except Leylah Annie (at left) is the lefty.

When big sister Leylah Annie was still 15, she made her junior Grand Slam debut and reached the semifinals at the 2018 French Open. She lost to eventual champion Cori Gauff.

The younger sister is not quite as precocious.

She has played some junior tennis although, like her sister, she didn’t play at all last fall.

But she’s won her share of matches since essentially making her debut on the ITF junior circuit about a year ago. 

The sisters teamed up for the first time in doubles at the Canadian junior tune-up event the week last year’s US Open.

Outside the structure

Despite Leylah Annie Fernandez’s nomination to the Fed Cup team this week, she is not a product of the Tennis Canada development program that has gotten so much positive press over the last few weeks with the successes of Bianca Andreescu and Félix Auger-Aliassime.

Just before she reached that French Open semifinal (with the exception of Layne Sleeth at the Australian Open, Fernandez was the only Canadian junior – boy or girl – to play in junior Grand Slam main draws in 2018), she did get some help for traveling expenses. High-performance chief Louis Borfiga told Tennis.Life at the time that the financial help came from a separate fund outside the main Tennis Canada development structure.

The way the high-performance program structure is set up, Borfiga said, there are certain criteria to meet. And Fernandez didn’t meet those criteria. But he said they would do what they could to assist.

Doing it on their own

Fernandez
Leylah Annie Fernandez’s mother and sister Bianca watch on as she competes at the junior US Open last September. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Fernandez was given a stipend at the beginning of 2019, which allowed her and father Jorge to travel to Australia, where Fernandez reached the singles final.

Shortly after that, Fernandez reached her career high of No. 4 in the world in the juniors.

Her coach/father had asked for more help, but it was not forthcoming. That may have changed.

The Fernandez family relocated to Deerfield Beach, Fla. a couple of years ago. In 2018, Leylah Fernandez went back and forth to Montreal, where she was working with a Belgian coach named Francisco Sanchez.

That ended, and now she, too, is permanently in Florida and working full-time with her father.

It will be interesting to see where both Fernandezes go from here, essentially making their own way through the choppy waters of professional tennis.

(Tennis Canada/Roger Lauzon photos, taken at the Canadian U16 outdoor champions last summer in Gatineau, Que., were provided by Tennis-Québec)

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