August 6, 2023 Patrice Beriault/Tennis Canada Leylah Fernandez (CAN) / Bianca Fernandez

Although our country wasn’t represented in the second and final round of the qualifying tournament, there were plenty of Canadians at IGA Stadium on Sunday afternoon to close out the Family Weekend at the 2023 National Bank Open (OBN).

Three of our own who are slated to compete in the main draw were front and centre at several press events.

Leylah Fernandez also spent time with her younger sister Bianca at a quick family reunion and preparatory training session that thrilled the crowds, while Bianca Andreescu of Ontario and Rebecca Marino of British Columbia said they were always happy to be back at the National Tennis Centre where they spent so much time as teens.

Jorge and his girls

On Sunday afternoon, the Fernandez sisters met up on court no.4 at the far end of the grounds for a robust workout with their dad Jorge, who also happens to be Leylah’s coach. And even though they had to stand several feet away, plenty of admirers rubbernecked just to catch a glimpse of them.

Photo: Paul Rivard

Considering the sheer number of WTA players in the city right now, why did Leylah want to train with her younger sister? Was it a stunt for the fans or something she really wanted to do?

“It’s just because she’s the partner I wanted to train with today,” said Leylah. “I haven’t seen my sister in a long time, and it’s been a long time since we played together. It’ll be nice to play with her, see how she’s improved and feel a different ball with a really good player. We’ve been training together for a long time, and she’s given me confidence in my game.”

From a distance, their similar hairstyles and builds make it hard to tell them apart. But Leylah is left-handed, while Bianca is right-handed.

Photo: Paul Rivard

Do they feel a mirror effect when they go head-to-head? “Not really,” Leylah said with a smile. “We have two completely different styles. That’s what complicates things for our dad. He sees two sisters but two different sisters.”

After bowing out of the qualifying event, Bianca told La Presse newspaper how much she admired her older sister and how much pressure she puts on herself with all her sister’s success.

Did Leylah have any advice to avoid comparisons and alleviate some of the burden?

“My results and hers don’t matter because we’re on completely different paths. It may take her a few more years to reach her goals, or she may break out soon. Nobody knows. The most important thing is to persevere.”

Photo: Patrice Bériault

And beyond the sisters’ family ties, there was also talk about Leylah’s season.

Happy to be competing at home, she’s feeling the city’s good vibes. Despite her tumble in the rankings and the fact that she’s no longer automatically entered in WTA 1000 tournaments, the No.88 is staying positive.

“My game’s improved lately. I’m still working at it, and even if the results aren’t there yet, you can see the progress and that’s what’s most important. It’s always an ongoing process,” she explained. “Of course, I’m still impatient and I’d like to see results quickly, but I’m disciplining myself to take things one step at a time,” she added with a laugh.

Photo: Patrice Bériault

Like the other members of the WTA, Leylah was happy to take part in the activities organized on site, and she even boarded a mini VIA Rail train that delighted kids and parents alike.

The look on this little girl’s face speaks for itself.

Photo: Mathieu Bélanger

Bianca Andreescu also spent time with fans on Sunday.

She led a yoga session and was at a popular book signing event for Bibi’s Got Game: A Story about Tennis, Meditation and a Dog Named Coco, a children’s book she co-wrote with Mary Beth Leatherdale after going through a difficult period in her life.

Photo: Paul Rivard
Photo: Paul Rivard
Source: Amazon

Afterwards, she was whisked off to sit for interviews. As she’s been saying for the past year, she hates seeing the No.44 next to her name in the rankings. But that’s the reality of tennis. “I don’t necessarily focus on it, but if you get someone like Iga [Swiatek] in the first round then that can be a little tricky,” she said.

Photo: Paul Rivard

Bianca’s changed her mindset of late and now has a better focus on her life outside tennis. While she feels more balanced, she’s also able to look ahead and feel confident about the future on the court and with her team.

“I think it’s all about constant communication in the team, and I feel that we have that now. Nothing’s perfect, but we’re very open to each other. If something bothers me, I tell them and if something bothers them, they tell me. We are in a phase where we try something new, and I think it’s working. I don’t want to give away the secret, but let’s say it’s all about communication.”

And is she healthy? “Yes, I am injury free!” she said without hesitation. “Well, everyday we’re dealing with little things but nothing serious!”  

Five Canadians in the doubles draw

Let’s not forget the doubles draw.

Of course, there’s World No.20 Gabriela Dabrowski. The Ottawa native is teaming up with No.44 Erin Routliffe, a Canadian-born New Zealander.

Also in competition is the intriguing duo made up of Rebecca Marino and Eugenie Bouchard, and Carol Zhao will join forces with Marina Stakusic for a great combination of experience and youth.

Photo: Pascal Ratthé

An amazing start to the tournament

The Family Weekend was just as popular as ever, as nearly 26,000 people walked through the stadium gates on Saturday. the weekend’s total attendance of 61,000 shows its success.

“It’s an amazing start to our tournament,” said NBO tournament director Valérie Tetreault. “The turnout shows just how much Montréal is a tennis city. Our numbers for the qualifying event are comparable to those of other tournaments’ main draws.”

On day two, Sunday’s sunny summer weather brought in just about as many people.

In addition to the qualifying matches and training sessions, fans came together for a drink or a bite to eat and took part in the many activities organized for the young and young at heart.

Photo: Pascal Ratthé