Leylah Fernandez practices on Monday October 4, 2021 in Indian Wells, California. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/BNPPO)
There was surely a metaphor in those heels Leylah Fernandez wore to the Met Gala, held just hours after the surprise all-teen US Open final, the first in more than two decades in New York.
Fernandez, 19, had upset two ex-champions and three Top-5 players en route to her first major title match, where she came up short against 18-year-old Emma Raducanu, 6-4, 6-3. Now the Canadian was resplendent in a black-and-white striped Carolina Herrera dress inspired by Venus and Serena Williams, on the steps of Manhattan’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, her first time out in high heels.
“It was definitely different from what I’m used to. I’ve never gotten dressed up like that,” said Fernandez, who was born in Montreal but spent much of her youth in Florida. “I never had a chance to. I missed my homecoming, prom. I missed practically every dance possible. That was definitely an experience to get ready, to put on the makeup, to get the hair done, putting on heels for the very first time. They were a little hard to walk on at first. The one thing on my mind going up the stairs of the Met was, ‘Don’t fall down. Just put one foot in front of the other.’”
Fernandez, coached by her father, Jorge, would be wise to heed her own advice as she ramps up her livelihood on the WTA Tour. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. After all, that kind of early-career success (and all the trappings that come with it) can do a number on you if you’re not surrounded by a good support system. But the newest Flair Airlines and Claro Brasil endorsee says she’s got that covered.
“I have a great team around me to let me focus on my craft, my tennis, and not let me be overwhelmed by everything that’s going on right now. They really minimize these expectations on me,” said Fernandez. “I don’t feel too pressured. I don’t feel overwhelmed. I’m just here on the tennis court being the same old Leylah, having fun on the court, trying to improve every day.”
Fernandez also got some consultation from another Met Gala attendee, one that just so happens to have five Slam trophies.
“I was lucky enough to meet Maria Sharapova at the Met,” she said. “We kind of chatted a little bit. She gave me some pretty good advice. I don’t want to disclose any because it was very personal to me, but she’s an amazing person. She told me about her own experience, and the way she was able to bounce back. She’s a great person, a great inspiration.”
Fernandez, who is also in the BNP Paribas Open doubles draw alongside Coco Gauff, will return to the singles court for the first time since her US Open run when she faces Frenchwoman Aliza Cornet in the second round on Friday. It will be yet another test for the confident Canadian, who earlier this year captured her maiden WTA title in Monterrey (def. Viktorija Golubic, 6-1, 6-4).