Playing in the US Open final on Saturday, Leylah Annie Fernandez became the newest rising star in tennis in Canada.
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Her career and future exploits will inspire an entire generation of future Canadian tennis players, as are currently Bianca Andreescu, Félix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov, three maple leaf representatives aged 22 and under who broke the WTA and ATP top 30s, something Fernandez will do in the next rankings update.
The 19-year-old also became the third Maple Leaf member in under 10 years to reach the final of a Grand Slam tournament after Eugenie Bouchard at Wimbledon in 2014 and Andreescu at the US Open. United, in 2019.
“Indeed, these results will stimulate participation – we hope – more on the side of young people, admitted Eugène Lapierre, vice-president of Tennis Canada in Quebec, when joined by phone in New York, since he was able to attend Fernandez’s match. In principle, this is what we hear from young people who want to jump on the field and imitate Eugenie, Bianca, Leylah, Félix and Denis, and company. This is what we want to see. Our role will be to take advantage of this emulation, which we have finally created and to continue, because it puts pressure to have good results, that means that people will expect what there is still. “
“It will help promote tennis,” added Tennis Canada women’s program chief Sylvain Bruneau. We see it as much in people who already play tennis or who do not play tennis, it is a small culture that is starting to develop in the country. There is a tradition of excellence and it becomes possible for young people who want to play tennis to dream of being able to do something, if ever they want to, at a competitive level, or just to take the racket and making it a recreational sport is already good.
“We see compatriots who do great things and there is no longer a barrier, everything is allowed. There is no more complex at all, to be Canadian on the international tennis scene. On the contrary, we are to be admired. ”
If Bouchard, Andreescu and Fernandez share one similarity, it’s that they all reached the final of a Grand Slam tournament at a very young age. Bouchard was 20, while the other two were 19.
This success is often accompanied by recognition and added pressure to perform well at each event, which can be dangerous for some athletes, especially in terms of mental health.
“We don’t just see it with our athletes, but we see it with all kinds of athletes, and even in other sports. We saw it with Naomi Osaka, who spoke openly about the pressure of winning, the pressure of success. As much as they can have fun when they’re young and when things are going well, when people have expectations of them, it gets a lot heavier, said Lapierre. In other sports as well, we have seen it with Jonathan Drouin, with the Montreal Canadiens.
«[Les athlètes] become more accessible to the general public and that brings pressure. […] They become international stars overnight. To make a big hit in New York, like Leylah did this week, her name is [maintenant] worldwide. She is expected, whether she plays in Paris, or Buenos Aires, or Beijing. It changes a life. ”
Lapierre recognizes, however, that organizations like Tennis Canada have a certain role to play in order to better prepare athletes to deal with these types of situations, particularly on the level of social networks.
However, the public shouldn’t have to worry in Fernandez’s case.
“Is she going to continue to be the same player, to train so hard and to be so passionate about her sport?” I’m sure, sure, sure yes, Bruneau mentioned. Because of his entourage too, I’m sure it won’t change anything. It’s not like she’s going to hit a wave and surf. She will take advantage of what has happened to go higher and faster. “