Photo: Mathieu Belanger
On Wednesday, the booming rallying cry “Let’s go, Leylah!” rocked IGA Stadium for the second straight day. To the delight of thousands in the stands (and of tournament organizers as one of their own brought the event to life), a Montrealer set Centre Court ablaze.
No.81 Leylah Fernandez punched her ticket for the third round of the 2023 National Bank Open with a surprise three-set win over No.12 Beatriz Haddad Maia (7-5, 5-7, 6-3). Going into the match, the two lefties were 1–1.
A semifinalist at Roland-Garros last spring, Haddad Maia broke Fernandez in the opening game and immediately consolidated the break, but Leylah was able to turn the tide through the long rallies and super-charged shots.
The stadium erupted, and it was great to hear.
At the outcome of a seemingly never-ending 18-point game, Leylah was broken again. Then in the 12th game, against all odds, she broke her opponent at zero to clinch the first set 7-5.
After a long pause, the bout picked up where it left off, with a series of long rallies. In the fourth game, after around 90 minutes of play, Beatriz hit a double fault to give Leylah the break but immediately took it back.
In the 10th game, Leylah tried unsuccessfully to seal the deal on a match point and then watched Haddad Maia collect eight straight points to pocket the set 7-5.
The final set didn’t disappoint. The players’ defensive prowess was matched only by their surgical precision.
In the 8th game, the fans would have raised the roof if there were one when Leylah gained a break on her second try. In the final game, she cashed in on triple match point after nearly three hours of play.
And the crowd went wild!
After the win, when the on-court interviewer asked her how she did it, she replied: “I was here to put on a good show. I hope you enjoyed it. I do it because there are people like you encouraging me, and you give me energy.”
How did the win compare to her 2021 US Open run? “This is my favorite match!” she said with a smile to the sound of deafening cheers.
At a presser later that evening, a reporter asked Leylah if the match felt different considering the dip in her performance these past two years.
“Patience, trust, fate and a lot of positivity. There have been a lot of ups and downs throughout the year. Wins and losses. Sometimes, you’re doing the right things but the results aren’t coming, but you must keep on trusting the process. And I’m glad that, today, all the pieces came together. This win means a lot to me and it’s gonna help me for the future.”
While she could have gotten out of the match sooner if she’d been able to convert the first of her match points at 5-4 in the second set, she managed to stay mentally strong despite the disappointment.
“Actually, it was hard. When I lost that match point, I was beating myself up and I lost that second set. I said to myself: ‘It’s gonna be hard. Let’s just fight. Let’s forget about it.’ I looked at my box and they just told me to reset, which I could do.”
With two wins over higher-ranked rivals, Leylah will move up to approach world no.70.
On Thursday, she collides with No.48 Danielle Collins of the US.
The end for Gabriela Dabrowski
In doubles, Gabriela Dabrowski and Canadian-born New Zealander Erin Routliffe were ousted by Zhaoxuan Yang of China and Latisha Chan of Taiwan in three sets (2-6, 6-2, 10-4).
Stakusic and Zhao forge ahead
Teenager Marina Stakusic and veteran Carol Zhao pulled off an upset when they bettered Marie Bouzkova of Czechia and Lin Zhu of China (6-4, 3-6, 11-9) in 79 minutes.
The NBO celebrates Pride
After the rain on Monday and clear skies on Tuesday, all the colours of the rainbow were on display on Wednesday.
August 9 was Pride Day at the National Bank Open in Montréal and Toronto, and several activities were planned celebrate the 2SLGBTQI+ communities. On the sites, Pride flags and wrist bands were handed out to the first 1,500 ticket holders.
“For several years, Tennis Canada has invested time and resources to make our sport even more inclusive and accessible. Despite the progress, we believe that organizing a Pride Day is still very relevant, not only to offer more visibility to the 2SLGBTQI+ communities but also to let everyone know there’s a place for them in tennis,” said tournament director Valérie Tétreault.
“Our activations on August 9—the flags and wristbands, the messages on the giant screens and the special uniforms the ball kids are wearing—all have a clear objective: to make sure our fans in the stands and at home know that every single one of them belongs in our sport.”