Fernandez raced from underdog to unbelievable at last year’s US Open. Twists and turns have followed, but she returns to New York as a viable threat to win it all—and do it in style.

Leylah Fernandez was keeping it loose this spring, or so she claimed.

Exceedingly polite & disarmingly thoughtful, the Canadian can be a bit tightly wound—no idle cliché given the signature bun she wore all the way to the 2021 US Open final.

“I’m glad that you enjoyed all the suffering from the US Open!” she joked to begin our interview from Miami.

Her shy smile belies a fiercely competitive streak first nurtured by a tight-knit family, and which later led the Canadian to lift her arms in triumph through multiple three-set thrillers in Flushing Meadows.

“I think it’s something from inside of me,” the 19-year-old mused, “because from a very young age I’ve always wanted to be on the first court playing in front of parents. Even in school, apart from presentations in front of the class that I hated—but when I had to, like, do a mini play, sing, dance, I would go out there, have fun. I would enjoy it a lot.

“Over the years I’ve been learning how to use the crowd’s energy, how to use it to my advantage even when they’re cheering against me.”

Despite a defeat to fellow teenager Emma Raducanu in a historic championship match, the Montréal-born Fernandez—of Ecuadorian and Filipino-Canadian parents—had unequivocally endeared herself to a New York City audience that willed her to consecutive upsets over Naomi Osaka, Angelique Kerber, Elina Svitolina and Aryna Sabalenka.

Leylah Annie Fernandez

“I’m just having fun, I’m trying to produce something for the crowd to enjoy,” Fernandez said of her 2021 US Open run. “I’m glad that whatever I’m doing on court, the fans are loving it and I’m loving it, too. We’ll say it’s magical.”

“I think I’ve been doing some incredible things,” she says in retrospect. “I don’t know. I think one word that really stuck to me is ‘magical,’ because not only [was] my run really good but also the way I’m playing right now.

“I’m just having fun, I’m trying to produce something for the crowd to enjoy. I’m glad that whatever I’m doing on court, the fans are loving it and I’m loving it, too. We’ll say it’s magical.”

Fernandez repaid New Yorkers’ love with a runner-up speech that recognized the 20-year anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks, which occurred just under 12 months before Fernandez was born.

“I know on this day it was especially hard for New York and everyone around the United States,” she said, reclaiming the microphone to make her poignant addendum. “I just want to say I hope I can be as strong and as resilient as New York has been the past 20 years.”

Armed with the self-belief that validation and newfound fame brings, Fernandez was sporting a different look by the start of the 2022 season, eschewing the so-called “business bun” for a Lululemon scrunchie that helped her boast a bouncier curl.

“I always preferred playing in a bun because my hair would fly around when I played,” she explains. “But one day my dad suggested I practice with a ponytail, thinking it would be a fun change, so I did—and I found I liked it! It was something different and I was enjoying it a lot.

“I was also getting scrunchies from Lululemon and I wanted to wear them. It’s a way for me to have fun and be different on court, so I’m not always the same. I like being able to change my style from time to time.”

“I know on this day it was especially hard for New York and everyone around the United States,” she said, reclaiming the microphone to make her poignant addendum. “I just want to say I hope I can be as strong and as resilient as New York has been the past 20 years.”

Armed with the self-belief that validation and newfound fame brings, Fernandez was sporting a different look by the start of the 2022 season, eschewing the so-called “business bun” for a Lululemon scrunchie that helped her boast a bouncier curl.

“I always preferred playing in a bun because my hair would fly around when I played,” she explains. “But one day my dad suggested I practice with a ponytail, thinking it would be a fun change, so I did—and I found I liked it! It was something different and I was enjoying it a lot.

“I was also getting scrunchies from Lululemon and I wanted to wear them. It’s a way for me to have fun and be different on court, so I’m not always the same. I like being able to change my style from time to time.”

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