Leylah Fernandez is making headlines these days, winning in Belgrade after two rain delays at the Serbian Open on Monday, and honoured for her recent Billie Jean King Cup heroics with the ITF’s Play-Offs Heart Award.
It’s very important. I haven’t played well in the last two tournaments but I am very happy with my performance today and with the way I played, and now let’s focus on the next match. Leylah Fernandez
The award is made to players who have represented their country with distinction, demonstrated exceptional courage on the court and shown outstanding commitment to their team and Fernandez’ pair of comeback wins against Serbia in Kraljevo last month put her ahead of over fellow nominees Katie Boulter of Great Britain, Magdalena French of Poland and Elina Svitolina of Ukraine.
The 18-year-old played the tie as Canada’s No 1 singles player and produced two strong performances to overcome Olga Danilovic on Day 1 and Nina Stojanovic on Day 2, leading the team to 4-0 sweep and moving Canada into the 2022 qualifying round for the women’s team event.
Fernandez, who was also a nominee in 2020, received a cheque for $3,000 to donate to a charity of her choice, and she chose Table de sécurité alimentaire de Villeray food bank.
“I am honoured and so thrilled to win this year’s Billie Jean King Cup Heart Award,” said Fernandez. “Thank you so much to the fans who voted.
“It means the world to me to represent my country and be part of an incredible team.
“Congratulations to all of the nominees. After such a challenging year for all of us, it’s amazing to be given the opportunity to celebrate kindness and pay it forward. Thank you very much. Go Canada Go!”
Fernandez is back in Serbia this week for the WTA 250 event in Belgrade and she defeated Polona Hercog of Slovenia 7-5 6-1 in the first round on Monday.
The match was originally scheduled for noon but was pushed back by 3 hours after the day began with a torrential downpour.
Both players struggled with their serves and the contest featured many breaks, with the Slovenian getting the first chance to move ahead after Fernandez double-faulted, but the Canadian managed to save it with an impressive forehand winner.
After holding herself, she went on the attack and took the early break with a powerful backhand winner to lead 2-1, when the rain returned and the match was suspended for another 4 hours.
Returning to the court at 7pm local time, it was the Canadian who got off to a rough start, double-faulting again on break point to go back on serve at 2-2.
Both players failed to hold onto their delivery games before Fernandez was able to save yet another break point at 4-3 and held.
Serving for the first set at 6-5, Fernandez staved off more break points but finally pocketed the opener.
The second was much more straight-forward for the Canadian, who broke in the first game and managed to break again after consolidating.
Hercog fought to stay in the match, earning chances to break back, but Fernandez fended them off and, at 5-1 up, she served it out to book her spot in the next round.
”It’s very important,” she said, “I haven’t played well in the last two tournaments but I am very happy with my performance today and with the way I played, and now let’s focus on the next match.”
Fernandez will either face Viktoriya Tomova or Lola Radivojevic in her next match after Tomova replaced top-seed and 30th ranked Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova from Russia, who pulled out of the event with an abdominal injury.
The Serbia Ladies Open also lost 2 of its top-8 seeds on Monday when No 3 seed Shuai Zhang from China and 8th seed Danka Kovinic both lost their opening-round matches to Colombian qualifier Maria Camila Osorio Serrano and Spain’s Cristina Bucsa respectively.
Not much separated Zhang and Osorio Serrano, who battled for 2 hours 21 minutes and were separated by just one point at the end, 97 to 98, as the Colombian upset the Chinese, 6-2 1-6 7-6(4).
Osorio Serrano will play either local Serbian wild card Olga Danilovic or Russian qualifier Kamilla Rakhimova.
Meanwhile, Bucsa ousted Kovinic in another but shorter 3-set battle, with the 172nd ranked Spaniard posting a comeback win, 3-6 6-4 6-1, over the Montenegrin.
The only seed to advance to the second round on Monday was the 2nd-seeded Yulia Putintseva from Kazakstan, who defeated Slovenia’s Kaja Juvan in their first-round clash after 2 hours 28 minutes of play, and is now favourite for the title.
Putintseva dropped the opening set but regrouped well enough to comfortably see off the challenge, 4-6 6-2 6-1.
In other results, No 4 seed Paula Badosa from Spain beat Germany’s Andrea Petkovic, 6-2 6-2, and takes on Mihaela Buzarnescu from Romania next, who beat compatriot Patricia Maria Tig, 4-6 7-5 6-2; while No 5 seed Nadia Podoroska from Argentina took out Hungary’s Timea Babos, 6-2 4-6 6-3, and plays France’s Oceane Dodin next, a 6-3 7-5 winner over Kristyna Pliskova from the Czech Republic.