Melbourne | Top juniors stay on track
Top seeds, Lorenzo Musetti and Clara Tauson remain on track to win the boys and girls singles titles at the Australian Open as both came through their respective quarter-finals at Melbourne Park on Thursday.
I was really prepared for this. In Florida it’s the humidity that’s really high, but it’s the same concept – you still feel the heat, you still feel tired and feel it in your body just the same. Leylah Annie Fernandez
Italy’s Musetti surged to a 5-1 lead against Spain’s Nicolas Alvarez Varona, only to find himself embroiled in a tight 7-6(8) 7-5 contest to set up a showdown with unseeded Giulio Zeppieri, who stunned No 3 seed Otto Virtanen 7-5 6-3.
Tauson, who hails from Denmark, will take on unseeded Daria Snigur for a place in the final after beating Latvia’s Kamilla Bartone 6-2 6-3.
In the boys, both Filip Cristian Jianu and Emilio Nava advanced in identical three-set score-lines to reach the final four.
No 4 seed Jianu from Romania, who took out Britain’s Connor Thomson in the second round, downed Cannon Kingsley, the American No 9 seed, 7-6(5) 4-6 2 in the quarters, while Nava, another American who defeated No 2 seed Bu Yunchaokete of China on Wednesday, ended Czech Jiri Lehecka’s unbeaten run since Traralgon 7-6(5) 4-6 6-2. Lehecka had stopped Brit Henry Wendelken in round two.
The Australian Open’s new Heat Stress Scale came into effect for the first time on Thursday, but not before Leylah Annie Fernandez had booked her spot in the girls’ singles semi-finals.
The Canadian No 4 seed is through to her second junior Grand Slam semi-final after a 6-3 6-1 victory over France’s Manon Leonard played in temperatures rising over 35C at Melbourne Park, just minutes before play was suspended on all outside courts as the mercury crept past 40C.
Not that the conditions affected the Montreal native, whose family relocated to Florida in 2018 to make the most of the temperate conditions.
“I’ve been practising a lot in the off-season with my coach to be ready for the dramatic heat that can come in Australia,” Fernandez said.
“I was really prepared for this. In Florida it’s the humidity that’s really high, but it’s the same concept – you still feel the heat, you still feel tired and feel it in your body just the same.
“I talked to my coach and he said, the heat is going to be there – just be conscious of it, use your ice towels, drink lots of water, and don’t forget it’s the same for both players. If you’re mentally stronger than your opponent, then you will be better on that day to get through it.”
Fernandez speaks with a maturity beyond her 16 years, a quality backed up by her level-headed attitude to the sport that should soon become her career.
Asked why she feels like a better player in the six months since her run to the Wimbledon semis, Fernandez said: “I can let go of my phone for a good amount of time to be more focused and more dedicated to tennis.
“And I’m just more prepared – I practiced very hard in the off-season with my coach, and I was just better today.
“Around the time of the US Open, I decided I needed to be more focused, because I want to be a professional and want that to be my career. So, my dad gave me a choice: use your phone and do whatever you want with it, or just dedicate yourself to tennis.
“I was very happy that he let me make that decision, because it made me more mature, and made me really think about those important life decisions for me. I was able to make it, and I’m very happy right now.”
Fernandez’s father, Jorge, has been the central figure in her sporting career to date, a former soccer coach who realised he had an athlete on his hands when setting his daughter the unlikely task of performing 10 keep-ups with a football to prove she wanted to play.
Within a week, the youngster had taught herself, much to her father’s amazement but tennis soon took over from football, in another move that surprised Fernandez Sr.
“One day, he was driving back from work and was driving back from a sports store,” Fernandez recalls.
“He asked if there was anything smaller than a soccer ball for us to play with, and they showed him a section of the store with ping pong, badminton rackets and tennis rackets.
“He imagined my sister and I playing tennis with our pigtails and going for ice cream later – a normal family thing. But I decided to get competitive, and now here we are in Australia!”
Jorge, who had not played tennis before his daughters picked up a racket, now coaches Leylah Annie, and has found the fundamentals of football and tennis are well-suited to one another.
“His mentality is that all sports have the same base, so if you’re able to become a good soccer player, which is much more physical, then tennis shouldn’t be that hard,” she said.
“Yes, you’re an individual, you’re alone out there and don’t have teammates, but if you’re able to do the basics in any sport, your talent for tennis should come out naturally.”
Fernandez will face Anastasia Tikhonova in the semi-finals after the Russian outlasted No 7 seed Lulu Sun to prevail 7-6(1) 4-6 6-4.
In the other quarter-final, Ukraine’s Snigur ousted Thai No 5 seed Mananchaya Sawangkaew 6-4 6-4, and will meet Tauson in the semis.