Leylah Fernandez hadn’t even been born in 2001 when terrorists attacked New York, but she hopes to show the same resilience and resolve as New Yorkers after her US Open final loss.
The 19-year-old Canadian’s dream run into her first Grand Slam final ended in defeat Saturday as she fell to British 18-year-old qualifier Emma Raducanu 6-4, 6-3 at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“It definitely stings,” Fernandez said. “But it will just make me want to work harder and stronger, just come back to every tournament with the same hunger I came into this tournament.”
After cheering support from Big Apple fans throughout an epic run that saw her upset three of the world’s top five players, Fernandez told the crowd on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that she hoped to be as strong and resilient as New York has been.
MODERATOR: Your thoughts on the match.
No, it was definitely a very tough match for the both of us. I unfortunately made one too many mistakes in key moments and she took advantage of it. Emma played a great tournament, so congratulations to her and her team.
But hopefully I’ll be back next year.
MODERATOR: Questions, please.
It’s been an incredible achievement over the last two weeks. No doubt you’re pretty disappointed at the moment. How long do you think it might take for this to sink in on what you’ve achieved?
Well, right now it has sunk in. I am still disappointed. I think this loss, I’m going to carry it for a very long time. I think it will motivate me to do better in training, better for the next opportunity I get.
But, no, I’m very happy with myself, with the way I competed, and the play I played, the way I acted on court the past two weeks. I’ve improved a lot not only tennis-wise but emotionally and mentally.
I’m happy. Next year hopefully it will be just as good.
What specifically do you think you learned about yourself and your game that you can carry forward?
There’s one thing that really surprised me was that the more that I’m more outgoing on court and that I try to get the crowd involved, the more I’m playing well. Usually when I was younger, I’d try to be as calm as possible, just like Federer.
I’m glad that I’ve discovered that of myself, that I play a lot better when I’m more – not motivated, but when I’m more outgoing and when I’m using the crowd to my advantage.
What made you decide to say what you said when you asked for the microphone back?
Well, when I woke up this morning, I looked at the date. I remembered watching just movies about what happened, then asking my parents, like, what exactly happened in that day. You know what, I was just so in shock when they told me. They told me what they were doing when they saw the news.
Obviously I don’t know much about what really happened, but with the few information that I do have, I know that New York has suffered a lot the past years when it did happen. I just wanted to let them know that they’re so strong, they’re so resilient. They’re just incredible.
Just having them here happy, lively, just going back to the way they were, having my back during these tough moments, has made me stronger and has made me believe in myself a lot more.
Do you think it’s still magical? You said you learned a lot emotionally. What are the lessons you learned?
Yes, it’s definitely magical.
I think the most important lesson that I’ve learned is how to recuperate after so many great wins in a row. After every win I was so happy, so excited. I just wanted to go back on court and play again.
I was very lucky to have a great team behind me telling me to calm down, enjoy this win now tonight, then the very next day let’s get back to work. I’m glad that I had that opportunity to learn, to actually know how to organize myself in these moments.
Could you take us through the end of the match, the situation with the injury timeout.
Well, I honestly did not know what was happening with Emma. I didn’t know how serious her fall was, so that’s why I went to see the official and ask her about it.
You know what, it just happened in the heat of the moment. It was just too bad that it happened in that specific moment with me, with the momentum. But it’s sports, it’s tennis. Just got to move on.
How would you describe the challenges that Emma presents as an opponent? Was there anything about the way she played that surprised you?
Well, Emma is a very good player. She’s been playing incredibly these last few months with a lot of confidence. I unfortunately today did one too many mistakes. I think Emma noticed it and she just took advantage of it.
She did good. Hopefully we’ll have many more tournaments together and many more finals.
In what ways do you hope or think what your experience of these couple of weeks will do to change your life?
I don’t think it will change my life that much. Like I said, I’m very lucky to have a great support team and a great family to keep me grounded. Like I said, with these wins and this loss today, it definitely stings, but it will just make me want to work harder and stronger, just come back to every tournament with the same hunger that I came into this tournament.
What is one moment when you look back from on court and off court over the last two weeks that will make you smile, look positively of your time in New York?
I think it’s just seeing my whole box there enjoying their time, enjoying their time in Arthur Ashe, outside the court, too. I love seeing them smile. I love my time here with the crowd, but seeing my family and my coach, my fitness coach, my agents, all there smiling, having fun, means a lot more to me than any victory.
This fortnight was an incredible showcase for your tennis. What is the match that goes on to the Leylah Fernandez highlight reel coming out of New York? Which one are you most proud of?
I can’t decide. There is just too many matches that I’ve played, that I’ve done well. I was happy with my first round. I know I remember my first match against her. I lost the first time. I was happy to get the win in this tournament.
Then against Kaia, she’s an incredible player with a lot of experience. I was glad to fight through against her.
Then Naomi, she’s won so many Grand Slams, she’s been in this stage for a while. I’m sure many more to come. Like I said, I’m just happy with the way I played.
Against Kerber, she’s an extremely great fighter, a great player. She’s a great example to look up to. I just fought for every point.
Same thing with Svitolina and Sabalenka. A lot of matches that I’ve played in a row that I can say – I can’t decide. I can’t decide which one is going to be in the highlight reel. I can just say I’m proud of myself and happy with the way I fought.
Mentally did it feel any different in this matchup where you’re perhaps considered the favorite, you’re a little bit more experienced compared to Emma compared to the other matches you won, or did that never cross your mind?
It did never cross my mind. I was just very excited to play a finals. I unfortunately did not do well, and Emma did great. So that’s what happened.