That’s ‘see you soon’ in Spanish – one of the three languages Leylah Annie Fernandez speaks along with English and French.
It probably cannot be soon enough for the 19-year-old regarding Indian Wells after Tuesday night when she was outplayed – 6-4, 6-4 – by Paula Badosa in a round-of-16 match at the BNP Paribas Open.
Time passes and Fernandez should get many more opportunities in the future to improve on this year’s result.
Actually, she has a great chance to improve her ranking in the coming weeks at the Miami Open. A year ago she won her first title in Monterrey and then had to fly to Miami and play the next day – losing her first-round qualifying match to No. 137-ranked Mihaela Buzarnescu of Romania. This year she will be seeded, as well as properly rested, with the possibility of going deep and getting her ranking higher with no points to defend.
As a result of the loss to Badosa, her No. 21 ranking should remain stable heading to Florida.
On a pleasant California desert night with the 16,100-capacity Stadium 1 about half full, Fernandez had all she could handle from the No. 7-ranked and No. 5-seeded reigning champion of the tournament. She was able to stay level to 4-all in the opening set after the players exchanged breaks of serve in games seven and eight. But the more experienced and powerful Badosa, who had break points in four of Fernandez’s five first-set service games, broke again to lead 5-4 and then served out to love to finish it off.
Badosa broke serve to 3-2 in the second set and then held on – saving two break points leading 4-3 – to win on her second match point at 5-4.
The greater pop on her serve and ground strokes were the main difference in the match but Fernandez, as is her calling card, did not go down quietly. In that pivotal eighth game of the second set, there were two quintessential Fernandez points. The first was a gorgeous forehand half-volley drop shot that she caressed perfectly over the net to get to advantage. The second was a bolt backhand down-the-line, well-struck winner to save a game point.
It was the second meeting between Badosa and Fernandez – the 24-year-old Spaniard won 7-5, 7-6(3) in the first round of 2020 Auckland qualifying when she was ranked No. 95 and Fernandez was No. 209.
During her media conference on Tuesday night, Badosa recalled that first match. “It’s pretty funny because it was first round of qualies,” she said. “I think I was 90 in the world and she was 140 or something. I didn’t know her. I knew she was a very good junior.
“We played each other. It was a very, very tough match. I remember after saying that she was going to be Top 100 very soon because I really liked how she played – a very smart player.
“What most impacted me in that moment is the next day after she lost against me, the next day at 7 a.m. she was practicing. I was like, ‘Wow! Very, very intense player. Very hard worker.’ I thought she’s going to be a very, very good player. As you can see, she’s already Top 20 at 19 years old. That’s amazing.”
Assessing Fernandez’s qualities as a player, the Madrilena (from Madrid) said, “she’s very smart, very intense, (has) very good timing. I think she has amazing timing, how she takes the ball very soon (early). She opens angles. So she does a little bit of everything. She’s lefty, so sometimes that’s uncomfortable for us.
“She has a very good game. The thing I like most about Leylah, she has the same attitude no matter what. That’s very important if you want to be a very good player.”
Badosa is well qualified to comment on competitive drive because that was a longstanding struggle that held her back for several years – an inability to give a max effort and fight every match. She has transformed herself and, in two years, has basically gone from a No. 100 player to the Top 10.
On Tuesday night, her service numbers were impressive – 63 per cent of first serves made and 79 per cent won to 65 and 62 for Fernandez.
She had had twice as many break point chances, with her conversion rate at 3/12 to 1/6 for Fernandez.
Badosa was wary of Fernandez’s ability to move the ball around and control rallies. “I knew that would be the key,” she said. “She was going to make me move and not make me hit like stop (stationary). I was going to be aggressive and not letting her be moving me a lot.
“The key was a little bit the serve, and to push her when she was serving. In the important moments, in the key moments, I served well and went for it very good.”
Fernandez actually had one more winner than Badosa – 24-23 – but the unforced errors (some may actually have been forced errors) were her downfall. She had 37 to just 24 for Badosa.
The 2022 Indian Wells singles tournament is over for Fernandez – and she gets a decent grade on her report card for hanging in to defeat (even if barely after saving four match points) an in-form Amanda Anisimova and then get revenge for last year’s loss to Shelby Rogers by beating the No. 49-ranked American 6-1, 3-6, 6-3, as well as equalling the result she had at last October’s edition of the tournament.
Fernandez is always hyper critical of herself when he loses and was not happy with a 1-2 record after the Australian summer events in January. Now, with her title in Monterrey two weeks ago, she has pushed her year-to-date record to a very credible 8-3.
AROUND THE GROUNDS
Strolling the practice courts at Indian Wells you come across a variety of players hitting in singles and doubles. In this case, it was doubles and the ATP Tour’s No. 1-ranked players, Mate Pavic on the left and Nicola Mektic on the right – both from Croatia.