04/17/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 04/17/2021 11:22
Leading her nation in Serbia, playing five hours of intense hard-court battling and absorbing a dramatic twist on match point, Leylah Annie Fernandez delivered lights-out tennis from first ball to last
World No. 6 Bianca Andreescu missed out on Canada's trip to Serbia for their Billie Jean King Cup by BNP Paribas Play-off, but her absence was barely noticed as 18-year-old compatriot Leylah Annie Fernandez grabbed the spotlight with a pair of impressive singles wins which drove the visitors to a comprehensive 4-0 win.
After taking an unassailable 3-0 lead, Canada wrapped things up as Carol Zhao and Rebecca Marino beat Ivana Jorovic and Aleksandra Krunic in the doubles to put the icing on the cake.
Fresh from winning her maiden WTA title in Monterrey last month, Fernandez turned on the style again with performances reflecting maturity beyond her young age, akin to more experienced peers tried and tested many a time in the world's top team competition.
Having ground Olga Danilovic into submission in three tight sets to claim the tie's opening rubber on Friday, Fernandez fought back from a set and a break down against Nina Stojanovic on Saturday to seal Canada's progress into next season's Qualifiers after she also battled some off-court adversity.
Gearing up for her fifth match point, Fernandez was temporarily derailed by a floodlight failure which forced a 10-minute delay and when the players returned to the court, Stojanovic hit back.
But it was lights out for Serbia a few moments later as Fernandez showed nerves of steel to win the next two points and send the Canadian bench into raptures.
'I tricked myself that it wasn't match point and that I wasn't up in the third set. More like, let's end this point as if I am trying to get back into the set, work harder than my opponent and get that ball back in,' she told a news conference with overwhelming calmness and composure.
'I am delighted I was able to pull through an incredibly tough match. I missed some match points and the lights went out, but I stayed focused. I was happy to get this opportunity as the number one player. My team-mates and the staff supported me all the way through, they were very encouraging throughout the weekend and that helped me a lot.'
Humble as ever, Fernandez acknowledged that sheer hard work got her season on track after a patchy start, adding that a month to remember would be a massive boost to her fledgling career.
'I stayed positive when I was a set and a break down. I just tried to think of the present moment, not the of the future or the past. Today was a fight and this match will be a huge momentum for the season. It's a big confidence boost. It hasn't been an easy start of the year for me, but I kept training and improving.'
Stojanovic conceded that she lost her focus after carving out a 6-3 3-1 lead, having also praised a fiercely competitive Canada team who capitalised on every opportunity in three tense singles rubbers.
'We gave it our best shot and believed that we can beat Canada, especially given that their top player was not here,' she said.
'I made mistakes today as I went for the jugular after being a set and a break to the good. That was a poor decision and I paid the price. Still, I am proud of myself because I left it all out there on the court.'
'All three singles were very close and at the end of the day, we were a little bit unlucky as we had to work our socks off to earn every point, they gave us nothing.'
'I stayed strong and took risks when I faced match points, so I have no regrets. Hats off to Canada though, they deserved it as they played outstanding tennis this weekend.'
Canadian captain Heidi El Tabakh heaped praise on Fernandez and acknowledged her protégé had the ability to become the next big thing on the WTA Tour.
'She is going to do some damage on the tour because she is very tough to beat,' said El Tabakh. 'I am so proud of her and we are very lucky to have her. She is one of the team members and I really enjoy my time with her on and off the court. She handled the pressure so well this weekend. She is still super-young and the way she handles herself on the court is incredible.'
El Tabakh also praised Canada's collective effort in engineering a resounding win over Serbia.
'It was a battle from start to finish, I know the score is 4-0 but it was much closer than that. Two tough matches yesterday, today's decider could have swung either way and Leylah really had to earn it today. We couldn't have asked for a better result.'
Serbia Team Captain Dusan Vemic was disappointed with the outcome but pleased with his side's effort.
'The girls left their hearts out on the court and I can have no complaints,' he said. 'I always take responsibility so let me say that I should have done better in preparing them for the kind of pressure they faced in this tie. It's been a learning curve for me as their captain.
'Quite frankly, I was very surprised how well Rebecca Marino played against Nina Stojanovic. She was on top of her game from start to finish. But our girls should keep their heads up and look forward to the future as they couldn't have done more.'