Photo : Radio Canada
On February 28, Leylah Fernandez rejoined the WTA fray in Monterrey, Mexico, where she’s the second seed. In a first-round assignment, Leylah eased past Slovakian Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, WTA 88th, in straight sets, 6-2, 6-2.
The 2021 US Open finalist is competing in her third event this season. In January, she fell in the first round of the AO and won one and dropped one at the Adelaide International 1.
Monterrey is where she secured her very first WTA title, at the outcome of a face-off with Viktorija Golubic of Switzerland last year.
If you took a quick look at the doubles draw, you may have noticed Fernandez and Fernandez and thought you were seeing double. Don’t worry—you weren’t. For the very first time at a WTA tournament, Leylah is joining forces with her 18-year-old sister Bianca.
The Quebecois siblings faced first seeded team Elixane Lechemia, from France, and American Ingrid Neel. Unfortunately but expectedly, the young Canadians fell 6-2, 6-3.
It isn’t the first time the sisters are cooperating on the court: earlier this month, they played at opposite ends in an exhibition doubles match with Mike and Bob Bryan in Delray Beach, just a few miles from their home base in Boynton Beach. In case you were wondering, Leylah and Bob overpowered Bianca and Mike in three (2-6, 7-5, 10-3).
Last December, Leylah posted a fun photo of her and Bianca training together in Florida.
And here’s a video of one of their sessions that found its way to YouTube.
In 2022, Bianca Fernandez competed in eight singles matches on the ITF circuit for a 4–4 record. In Monterrey—her first WTA experience—she was awarded a wildcard for the qualifying event but didn’t make it through the first round.
Last season, at junior and $15,000 and $25,000 tournaments, she had a 27–19 record, including qualies.
BTW, Leylah and Bianca aren’t the only sisters currently competing in the WTA: 21-year-old Dayana Yastremska and her 15-year-old sister Ivanna of Ukraine battled in doubles in Lyon, France. They were ousted in two by Georgina Garcia-Perez of Spain and Xenia Knoll of Switzerland (6-2, 6-4).
Vesely makes his mark
Jiri Vesely’s Cinderella story came right out of the blue.
At the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships last week, he collected six straight wins and fought his way into the final, where he was stopped in his tracks by the red-hot Andrey Rublev of Russia
So, who’s Jiri Vesely?
Coming into Dubai, he was the World No.123, among the hundreds of players who joined the Top 100, 200 and 300 after a junior career and promising start in the big leagues.
In 2011, Vesely won the Australian Open Junior Championship and then the Junior Open in Repentigny that summer. He earned a handful of Challenger titles and the ATP 250 titles in Auckland (2015) and Pune (2020). His best results came from 2015 to 2017, when he hovered around No.40 (No.35 in 2015).
In Dubai, he barely made it out alive of the qualifying event. He went three sets against No.421 Hady Habib (6-1, 5-7, 6-3) and grappled with No.66 Alexei Popyrin (7-6(4), 6-7(6), 6-2) for nearly two and a half hours.
But in the main draw, it was smooth sailing, and he needed only two sets to down the No.24, No.14 and No.1 (!). That’s Marin Cilic (6-4, 7-6), Roberto Bautista Agut (6-2, 6-4) and Novak Djokovic (6-4, 7-6).
The No.1’s dismantling had the dual effect of pushing Vesely into the semis and kicking Nole off the throne he’d been lounging on since February 3, 2020. Vesely definitely has Djoker’s number, since he also managed to take him by surprise in the second round of the 2016 Monte Carlo Masters.
In the semis, he and Denis Shapovalov clashed in a spectacular contest that was decided in three tiebreakers.
Despite his many, many double faults, the Canadian played an excellent match. Still, his opponent deserves all the praise for his mobility and strong defense. Read all about that match right here.
In the ultimate showdown, with his energy and confidence running low, Vesely was no match for No.5 Andrey Rublev.
The huge jump in the rankings from No.123 to No.74 should give Vesely a major boost. Now, all he needs to do is recapture whatever it was that helped him knock out all those Top 25 players in the same week.
Nadal and Rublev: unstoppable
Rafael Nadal and Andrey Rublev are FIRE right now.
While Rafa needs no introduction, Rublev is a rising star who’s breathing down the Spaniard’s neck in the race to the Top 3.
What both players have achieved since the start of the season is phenomenal. After skipping the ATP Cup due to COVID-19 and departing from Melbourne in the third round, Rublev has been playing very impressive tennis. He triumphed in 12 of his last 13 matches and competed in three straight finals from which he took home two crowns: Marseille and Dubai.
The World No.6 is currently 14–2.
As for Nadal, he’s even hotter. He’s won all 15 matches in which he’s competed since heading back out on the ATP Tour after a four-month absence.
After winning the ATP 250 in Melbourne and rewriting history at the Slam, he took the top honours at the ATP 500 in Acapulco without dropping a single set.
He’s having the best start to a season of his entire career.
The man with 21 Slams has never won as many back-to-back matches this early on. Until 2022, his strongest jump out of the gate was in 2014, when he prevailed in his first 11 matches. The streak ended when he ran into Stan Wawrinka in the AO final.
The King of Clay is now on his way to Indian Wells to extend his streak and post one of the best starts in ATP history.
If he wins two matches in California, he will join Pete Sampras (1998) and Roger Federer (2017), who won 17 straight. And if he plays his way into the semis, he’ll tie Novak Djokovic (2020), who has the best career start of the ATP with 20 wins.
It’s a tall order. But if anyone can do it, it’s Rafa.
No war please
The past two years have been difficult, but sport continues to uphold values worth believing in.
Whether sport in general or tennis in particular, or sport as entertainment or motivation for adults and children alike, it remains a moral loophole and bridge between nations and their peoples.
Still, two years of pandemic, controversies and conflicts have shaken the foundations of sporting events, and challenges will continue to arise.
For instance, there are the issues of equal prize money—and equal coverage—of women’s tennis and of the stance to take in response to the actions of individual nations.
Is it possible to remain neutral when matters drive us to take a strong position?
Should a country that violates human rights host an international sports event? What about a country that invades its neighbours with the barbaric violence of past wars?
Like many sports leagues and tours around the world, the WTA and ATP will have a lot of decisions to make.
For starters, the WTA has chosen no to hold tournaments in China until the situation with Peng Shuai is resolved in a manner deemed satisfactory to the international community. There are still four Chinese events on the ATP calendar.
And what about tournaments in Russia? Several sports have been affected by the current conflict. In hockey, the Dinamo Riga of Latvia has withdrawn from the Russian Kontinental Hockey League. UEFA and FIFA have suspended Russia from all their competitions, including the upcoming World Cup in Qatar. With the Paralympic Games set to begin in Beijing, Ukrainian athletes are calling for the Russian and Belarusian Olympic committees to be barred from competing.
On March 1, the WTA and ATP joined the global movement and released a joint statement to announce the suspension of the combined event this October in Moscow. Players from Russia and Belarus will continue to be allowed to compete in international tennis events on Tour and at the Grand Slams but cannot compete under the name or flag of Russia or Belarus until further notice. The ITF Board also decided to suspend the memberships of the Russian Tennis Federation and Belarus Tennis Federation.
There are a lot of questions. Some find the answers simple while others don’t.
In tennis, there have been gestures of solidarity from players on both sides. After winning his semi in Dubai, Andrey Rublev wrote No war please on the TV broadcaster’s camera, and World No.1 Daniil Medvedev called for peace after his quarterfinal win at the Mexican Open.
Svitolina penned Letter to my Motherland and has pledged to donate the prize money from her next tournaments to military and humanitarian efforts to support Ukraine.
When asked for his take on the situation, Félix Auger-Aliassime, who was a guest on the uber popular Québec talk show Tout le monde en parle on February 27, said people in the tennis world are from everywhere and coexist well, regardless of their different beliefs and origins, and that sends a really wonderful message.
Like the Olympics, should other international sporting competitions stop athletes from competing or make them part of political issues? Or should sport continue to be a form of truce and counterbalance in times of conflict in troubled regions?
What does the future hold? More questions and more reflection.
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