NEW YORK (AP) — Leylah Fernandez had been listening to New Yorkers, and now she wanted them to hear her.
They had wildly supported her across two memorable weeks of tennis, a time she had called “magical.”
And when it was over, on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Fernandez needed them to know that New York’s strength had made her stronger.
So when it appeared her interview on the court was complete after her 6-4, 6-3 loss to Emma Raducanu on Saturday in the U.S. Open women’s final, Fernandez took the microphone back for another comment.
“I know on this day it was especially hard for New York and everyone around the United States,” Fernandez said. “I just want to say that I hope I can be as strong and as resilient as New York has been the last 20 years.”
Fernandez explained the reason for her remarks at a press conference later.
“Just having them here, happy, lively, just going back to the way they were, having my back during these tough moments, has made me stronger and has made me believe in myself a lot more,” she said.
Fernandez turned 19 this week, born just shy of a year after the 2001 attacks. She has seen movies about 9/11 and asked her parents, who live with her in Florida after the family moved from Canada, to tell her more.
“Obviously, I don’t know much about what really happened,” Fernandez said. “But with the few information that I do have, I know that New York has suffered a lot the past years when it did happen. I just wanted to let them know that they’re so strong, they’re so resilient. They’re just incredible.”
And they loved watching Fernandez.
Her big left-handed strokes had often been matched by a smile just as big during her run of upsets. She would wave her arms to encourage the fans — who couldn’t attend the tournament last year because of the coronavirus pandemic — to cheer louder, which she said was uncharacteristic of the way she had always played before.
“Usually when I was younger, I’d try to be as calm as possible, just like (Roger) Federer,” Fernandez said. “I’m glad that I’ve discovered that of myself, that I play a lot better when I’m more — not motivated, but when I’m more outgoing and when I’m using the crowd to my advantage.”
That helped the 73rd-ranked Fernandez knock off defending champion Naomi Osaka in the third round, followed by 2016 champion Angelique Kerber. Then it was Elina Svitolina and Aryna Sabalenka, giving her three victories over top-five opponents.
But all those matches went three sets and may have left Fernandez lacking the energy to mount another comeback against Raducanu, who won every match in straight sets. Fernandez spent five more hours on the court in the tournament.
She tried, tough. Down 5-2 in the second set, Fernandez saved a couple match points and then held a couple break points in the next game before Raducanu finished her off.
“Of course Leylah is always going to play great tennis and always going to fight,” Raducanu said. “That’s just the competitor that she is.”
It wasn’t good enough, but Fernandez stuck to her previous description of her time in New York.
“Yes,” she said, “it’s definitely magical.”
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