Kim, Leylah – and 11 Americans gets IW WCs

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – Leylah Annie Fernandez’s agent requested a main draw wild card for her into next week’s BNP Paribas Open.

Ask, and you shall receive as Fernandez – and Kim Clijsters, who was awarded one earlier – are the only non-Americans to get passes into the men’s and women’s singles draws.

Fernandez follows in the footsteps of countrywoman Bianca Andreescu, who received a wild card last year – and won the whole thing.

In Andreescu’s case, the situation was a little different.

When the entry deadline for last year’s tournament hit, the Australian Open hadn’t yet been played and Andreescu was still outside the top 100.

But by the time the Indian Wells tournament rolled around, she was around No. 70 in the world. And that would have given her direct entry into the singles. So it seemed more than fair.

The same courtesy was extended to both Félix Auger-Aliassime and Laslo Djere, who made big jumps during the South American clay-court swing.

With Fernandez, who lost in the quarterfinals of the Monterrey WTA Tour event Friday night, after reaching the final the previous week in Acapulco, it’s a reward for a job well done. 

As well, it’s a nod to the multitude of Canadian fans (mostly from the western part of the country), who hit the area during the winter and are always present in large numbers to cheer on the Canadians. 

What’s next for Leylah Annie Fernandez?

She will be inside the top 120 when the new rankings come out on Monday. That would have been enough to get her into the singles qualifying on her own merits (although, at the deadline, she was ranked No. 189 and well out of the running).

But she got the big prize.

Fernandez is about 14 months younger than Andreescu was a year ago, when she won it.

Auger-Aliassime, Djere among Indian Wells WCs

All-American wild card list – mostly

Here are the rest of the wild cards. The qualifying begins on Monday.

Main draw men’s singles

Tennys Sandgren 
Jack Sock (Still in the singles at the Indian Wells Challenger)
Brandon Nakashima
Marcos Giron (Oracle Challenger Series qualifier)
Mitchell Krueger (Oracle Challenger Series qualifier)

Sock

Main draw women’s singles

Kim Clijsters
Leylah Annie Fernandez
Catherine McNally
Kristie Ahn
Christina McHale
Shelby Rogers (Rogers would be next in on her protected ranking, if another player withdraws. But now she can save that for another tournament).
Madison Brengle (Oracle Challenger Series qualifier)
Usue Arconada (Oracle Challenger Series qualifier)

Qualifying men’s singles

Michael Mmoh
J.J. Wolf
Thai-Son Kwiatkowski
Govind Nanda (winner of the BNP Paribas Open pre-qualifying tournament)
Carlos Alcaraz  (The up-and-coming Spanish teenager who made waves down in South America a few weeks ago).

Qualifying women’s singles

Nicole Gibbs
Whitney Osuigwe
Caroline Dolehide
Hailey Baptiste
Ashley Kratzer (winner of the BNP Paribas Open pre-qualifying tournament)
Diane Parry (French player)

What’s next for Leylah Annie Fernandez?

Through all of the exuberant wins and tough defeats of Canadian Leylah Annie Fernandez’s young career, the one standout was her incredible poise under any circumstances.

On court, bun in place, Fernandez’s determined game face would intimidate a woman twice her age. But after the handshake, as she lets her long hair tumble down her back, she magically morphs into a smiling, happy-go-lucky teenager she is in real life.

But late on Saturday night in Acapulco, that veteran’s facade crumbled, just a little.

Fernandez finally looked her 17 years. 

“Thank you to my family – my mom, my sisters, who support me every week  of my career,” she said during a runner-up speech entirely in Spanish at the Abierto Mexicano Telcel in Acapulco.

Her voice broke and the tears flowed, even as she maintained that poise as well as kid could under the circumstances.

The Canadian had given every last bit of energy she had left to come back from 2-6 deficit to Great Britain’s Heather Watson in the second set tiebreak.

She saved five match points. And, improbably, she took the tiebreak to send their singles final to a decider.

Heart intact, but legs done

But that was all she had.

After two wins in qualifying as a wild card and four more in the main draw in the hot, humid Acapulco weather, Fernandez’s legs were done.

Even a rousing plea from coach Romain Deridder couldn’t help. The lionness’s heart was willing – always. But the body couldn’t follow. And a fresh-looking Watson took it 6-4, 6-7 (8), 6-1.

It was Watson’s first WTA Tour title in nearly four years. And it helped her jump back into the top 50 for the first time in that long, as well.

Father and coach Jorge, who did it all his way – and basically on his own, with little help from the Canadian federation as Fernandez starred in the junior ranks – made it to Acapulco for the big moment.

He sat alongside Deridder. But he left the bilingual coaching consults to the coach. Fernandez has handed over the reins to the south-Florida based Frenchman as he turns his focus to trying to set his younger daughter, Bianca Jolie, on the same impressive path.

The tennis philosophy of Jorge Fernandez

A career-high ranking – and looking for more

After getting through the qualifying at the Australian Open in her first attempt to qualify at any Grand Slam, Fernandez leaped into the top 200.

With her surprise victory over top-five player Belinda Bencic in Fed Cup last month, she made the tennis world take notice.

And with the effort in Acapulco, Fernandez’s ranking will sit at about No. 128 on Monday.

That’s a jump of more than 60 spots in a week. And it will be a game-changer in terms of the tournaments she will have access to in the spring. Her days on the ITF circuit appear to be over.

Fernandez earned 180 ranking points in Acapulco, and $21,400 US in prize money.

Only about 130 points need to be earned to make it to the top 100. That would pretty much guarantee access to the main draws at Grand Slams. That, in turn, would guarantee an influx of prize money that will go a long way towards securing her ability to keep growing and improving.

A study in contrasts as Canadian Fernandez wins girls’ RG title

Monterrey is next

The performance in Acapulco allowed Fernandez to gain direct access into this week’s International-level tournament in Monterrey, Mexico.

She had been entered in the qualifying there. But because she was still alive at this week’s tournament, the “special exempt” rule got her into the main draw.

There, she will play American Lauren Davis in the first round.

(Update: because of several withdrawals, including two seeded players, Davis became the No. 10 seed and was shuffled in the draw. Fernandez now will play qualifier Stefanie Voegele of Switzerland in the first round).

With the Acapulco final on Saturday, Fernandez will have a couple of days to take a short breather and adjust to the altitude in Monterrey.

A wild card has been requested for her at the big Indian Wells tournament, which begins in just over a week.

No word yet on whether she will get it. But you would think she’s made a case at least to get one into the qualifying, even if she’s not American.

Short deadlines help Fernandez’s cause

The rise in rankings already meant that Fernandez can now get into the qualifying in Charleston, which takes place after the Miami Open in early April.  Or she could get straight into the main draw at the red-clay tournament in Bogota, Colombia the same week. The WTA has shortened some entry deadlines (normally six weeks) in 2020 to make that possible. 

In the shorter term, Fernandez might squeeze into the qualifying at the Miami Open on her own ranking.

Any kind of a move in those events, and Fernandez could aspire to get straight into the main draw in Paris. She won the junior title there a year ago as a 16-year-old. That’s an impressive rise by any measure.

The Canadian likely also can get straight into the main draw at the smaller European clay-court tournaments in Istanbul and Prague, leading up to Paris.

Right now, it’s pretty good to be Leylah Annie Fernandez.

(All screenshots from WTAtv.com)

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.

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)

Denmark’s Tauson wins junior girls’ title

MELBOURNE, Australia – It was the first junior Australian Open for 16-year-olds Clara Tauson of Denmark and Leylah Annie Fernandez of Canada.

And both will leave with trophies – with the champion’s hardware going to Tauson.

The Dane defeated Fernandez 6-4, 6-3 to win her first junior Grand Slam title.

Tauson is three months younger than Fernandez. But she’s a far more experienced junior campaigner, having now gone an impressive 34-1 on the junior circuit in singles since last year’s Wimbledon.

Her only loss came in the second round of the junior US Open, to Dasha Lopatetskaya of Ukraine.

(Lopatetskaya, still just 15, hasn’t played any juniors since that US Open. She is one of many junior-aged girls to have skipped the event. Instead, Lopatetskaya won a pair of $25,000 ITF women’s pro tournaments in Hong Kong).

Tauson’s uncle Michael, now 53, reached No. 101 in the ATP Tour rankings and notched victories over many notable players including Petr Korda, Derrick Rostagno, Franco Davin, Henri Leconte, Francisco Roig and Younes El Aynaoui.

Contrast in team size

Tauson is a family project, and also a Danish tennis project.

Her father Soren is her “traveling coach and he’s my coach at home. But I also have my coaches at home. I have a pretty big team at home with (physical) coaches, two or three tennis coaches, yeah,” Tauson said after her victory.

For Fernandez, there is just father Jorge.

They’re not getting much help from Tennis Canada, which has strict criterion under which it offers financial support to players. So they’re more or less going it alone, and the father-daughter team now is inside the top 10 in the ITF junior rankings, and inside the top 450 in the WTA Tour rankings. 

Here’s a Canadian Press piece about the match (written by your Tennis.Life correspondent).

Here’s what it looked like inside Rod Laver Arena.

Players missing

The Australian Open is always a bit bereft of the top junior players than the other majors. As far a distance as most have to travel, some simply can’t afford it.

There typically also is a group of players, even though they remain junior aged, who wrapped up their junior careers at the end of the previous season. And so, once Melbourne arrives, the draws seem a bit sparse at the top.

The girls’ draw featured just four of the top 20 junior players. Mananchaya Sawangkaew of Thailand, ranked No. 22, was the No. 5 seed.

Among the missing are No. 1 Clara Burel, No. 2 Cori Gauff, No. 4 Xiyu Wang and no. 7 Xinyu Wang of China, No. 5 Maria Osorio Serrano, No. 6 Iga Swiatek (who played in the women’s main draw and the mixed doubles), and Americans Caty McNally, Hurricane Black and Alexa Noel. The majority of them are 2001s – i.e. they are turning 18 this season and are among the most experienced ones.

Gauff, who is still 14 and one of only two players born in 2004 ranked in the junior top 100, won the Orange Bowl in early December. But she has yet to start her 2019 season.

Great sportsmanship by Tauson and Fernandez

What was striking about the end of this match were the nice moments from both players, including a hug at the net.

For a runner-up, Fernandez showed not only great respect for the magnitude of the moment for her opponent, she also nailed her trophy presentation speech.

That included a quick correction when the master of ceremonies mistakenly turned her into an American.

U.S. girls, Spanish boys win in Budapest

The American junior Fed Cup team will hold on to the trophy, after defending its title Sunday in Budapest, Hungary.

And the Spanisb boys came back from the brink to defeat France and win the junior Davis Cup.

The girls’ final against Ukraine came down to a match tiebreak in the deciding doubles, won 11-9 by Americans Coco Gauff and Alexa Noel over Lyubov Kostenko and Dasha Lopatetskaya.

The Americans had been down 1-4 and 6-8 in the tiebreak.

The squad was led by the youngest member, 14-year-old Coco Gauff. Ma is 15, Noel 16.

The team eye black for the final was an especially good touch.

Budapest

“I’m really proud of my team. We’ve overcome a lot this week. Me, Alexa and Connie (Ma) hadn’t really spoken before this trip, so I think we make such a great team, constantly supporting each other no matter what the score,” Gauff told the ITF website.

“This has been such a long week. Alexa and I have had some long, tense battles. We might not have always played well, but I think we’re champions because we fought harder.”

Third-time matchup for Gauff

Down 0-1, Gauff needed to win her singles against Lopatetskaya (who defeated her in the US Open juniors last month), to keep her team alive.

She did, 6-1, 4-6, 6-0.

A year ago, at 13, had been in the same situation, against the same opponent. The U.S. and Ukraine met in the finals of the under-14 world junior championships in both 2016 and 2017.

Noel had been part of the 2016 under-14 squad that had lost that deciding double match tiebreak against Ukraine.

Slovakia defeated Russia for the bronze.

The American girls had a tough act to follow. Last year, the powerhouse team of Amanda Anisimova, Katy McNally and Whitney Osuigwe (all junior Slam champions or finalists), won the junior Fed Cup. But they aged out of it this year.

Canadian girls make playoff round

The Canadian team, led by 16-year-old junior French Open semifinalist Leylah Annie Fernandez (with Jada Bui and Sara-Maude Fortin), made it out of their pool but were beaten by Russia in the quarterfinals. 

Fernandez went 5-1 at No. 1 singles. But the squad went 1-5 at No. 2.

Spanish boys beat France

Budapest

In the junior Davis Cup final, the team of Carlos Alcaraz Garfia, Pablo Llamas Ruiz and Mario Gonzalez Fernandez were up against versus France.

After dropping the first rubber, Spain was down to the wire as Harold Mayot had a match point on Alcarez Garfia at 6-4, 5-3 and the Spaniard serving. Mayot also had a shot at serving out the victory at 6-4, 5-4. But he couldn’t make it.

Spain then won that second singles rubber, and the doubles was routine.

The last time Spain won the junior Davis Cup was 2013, when Jaume Munar (now in the top 100 in the ATP Tour rankings), was on the team. 

It’s too early to predict stardom for the Spanish kids. But the ITF’s report on the story notes that Albert Costa was on the winning 1991 squad. Tommy Robredo and Marc Lopez won it in 1998 and Roberto Bautista Agut was on the winning team in 2004. Oh yes, Rafael Nadal was part of the 2002 team that defeated the U.S. in the final.

American, Canadian boys out of medals

Budapest
Kodat at the US Open juniors last month. He ran up against world No. 1 junior Tseng. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

The American squad of Toby Kodat, Martin Damm and Alexander Lee went 1-2 in their pool group, and so could not advance to the medal playoff round.

The kids did sweep all three matches in the second pool (9th-16th) to maximize, finishing ninth overall.

(The Canadian team of Joshua LapadatIlya Tiraspolsky and Antoine Marleau didn’t make it out of their pool. They defeated Morocco, but lost to Japan and Italy but finished second in the 9th-16th pool).

(Material from the ITF website was liberally used in this post, with the links above. Photos (except where noted) from the ITF/Srdjan Stevanovic)

Rebecca Marino has top 250 within reach (video)

SHERBROOKE, Que. – When Rebecca Marino returned from a five-year retirement last February in the qualifying of an entry-level ITF event in Turkey, the former world No. 38 was starting from scratch.

As she looks to her quarter-final match against No. 1 seed Arina Rodionova Friday at the Granby Challenger, she has the top 250 within reach if she can win the title, in only her 10th tournament back.

It took a crazy number of matches at those low levels to even get a rankings number next to her name. Marino went 20-1 through four weeks in Antalya, Turkey and checked in at … No. 624.

After a break, she returned for a three tournaments at the $25,000 level in Japan – again, having to earn her way in through qualifying. And at end of that swing, she was on the books at … No. 436.

A planned swing through the Har-Tru circuit in the southern U.S. was cut short by a shoulder issue. But now, with opportunities in her home country to get into the bigger events, she can really make a move.

After six weeks off, Marino returned at the $25,000 Winnipeg Challenger, and won it. It was the first time she had played in Canada since 2012, the fourth tournament title of her comeback – and the biggest.

Biggest challenge yet in Granby

This week in Granby, it’s a $60,000 tournament, with proportionately more ranking points at stake. And Marino has done well through two rounds to get to the quarterfinals. She posted a 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 win over Maria Sanchez of the U.S. in the second round, and now takes on No. 1 seed Arina Rodionova. 

At 28, Rodionova has been around longer than Marino, without the long break. Still, the two never met during Part I of Marino’s tennis career. They faced off for the first time last week in Gatineau, where the Canadian went after winning in Winnipeg and may not have been in full nick.

Rodionova won that one, 6-2, 6-4.

Here’s how the rankings picture looks for the 27-year-old. 

Marino entered the Granby tournament ranked No. 329. Already, with her effort in Granby, she’s at about No. 310.

If she can beat Rodionova and reach the semifinals, she would break into the top 300 at about No. 292. If she can reach the final, she’d be at about No. 273. And if she can win the event, she likely would break into the top 250, or close.

With the Rogers Cup qualifying coming up in just over a week, and then her hometown Challenger in Vancouver (a big one, with $100,000 in prize money and the corresponding attractive bounty of ranking points), the time is now.

Doubles a mutual admiration society

Marino

On Thursday, Marino teamed up with fellow Canadian Leylah-Annie Fernandez, a 15-year-old who reached the semifinals of the junior French Open in her first appearance at the Grand Slam level last month.

Fernandez is playing just her fifth pro event of the season.

With the 12-year age difference, these two are quite the May-December pairing and Marino very much the big sister figure. And with Marino training regularly in Montreal with the Tennis Canada staff alongside Fernandez and her coach Francisco Sanchez, they’ve struck up a bit of a mutual admiration society.

So it was a natural to team up. And they pulled off a comeback win in their first round, 4-6, 6-3, [12-10] against Hsu and Zacarias. 

Struggles against the No. 1 seeds

The No. 1 seeds, Rodionova and Ellen Perez (both of Australia) were significantly trickier on Thursday, although they had their chances to pull even in the second set after quickly going down 1-4.

The Aussie pair seemed to see Marino’s big serve really well, even if you’d expect it would be even more effective as the match was pushed indoors by the weather.

So wasn’t to be. And Marino might be kicking herself a bit for not having a great day at the office; lots of mishits and unforced errors on the groundstrokes.

But a lot of smiles, too. Here’s what it looked like.

It’ll be interesting to look back in three or four years, and see where both these players are.