Leylah Lays It On – Again

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Photo by Getty Images

Bill Simons

New York

LEYLAH LAYS IT ON – AGAIN: She’s tiny, she’s mighty, she’s lefty Leylah. She’s just 5’ 5” and her size begs the question: inch for inch, has there ever been an out-of-nowhere wannabe who so stirred the milkshake at the US Open? The kid, ranked No. 73, is so sweet, yet such a killer. Down went the biggest player not named Serena in women’s tennis – Naomi Osaka. Down went the three-time champion Angie Kerber. And then, down went Mrs. Monfils, the stunned and overwhelmed No. 5 seed, Elina Svitolina, who fell 3-6, 6-3, 6-7.

Yes, the Ukrainian veteran stormed back from losing the first set, and seemed, at times, to have regained the momentum. But Leylah battled back and left Svitolina wondering what hit her.

Fernandez is unique – a lefty Canadian teen into the US Open semis. She plays at or within the baseline, unleashes nasty down-the-line forehands and scampers with ease. Darren Cahill compares her to former No. 1, Chilean Marcelo Rios. Master coach Jim McLennan commented, “Fernandez is Seles: all offense, corner to corner. She plays close to or inside the baseline and clearly has gravity turn footwork, especially on her recovery steps.” We’re not sure what gravity turn footwork is, but the five players Leylah has swept by may well still be in recovery.

THE BEST PLAYER AT THE US OPEN: Texas A&M’s football program takes pride in calling their crazed fans “the 12th man.” Rennae Stubbs said Sunday, “Ladies and gentleman, welcome to the best player at the US Open: the crowd. They are back.”

THE SOUL OF TENNIS: Andy Roddick served up an instant classic quote on Djokovic. He suggested, “First he takes your legs, and then he takes your soul.” Novak shook his head. “I don’t steal souls. Everyone has their soul. We’re all beautiful souls. But I’ll take your legs out, that’s for sure.” Of course Roddick’s commentary is hardly the first time the topic has come up in tennis circles. Here’s a sampler.

• After officials gutted the passionate core of the Davis Cup in order to get some big money, Yannick Noah apologized to the competition’s founder: “They sold the soul of an historic event. Sorry, Mr. Davis.”

• After a crushing loss to Stan Wawrinka at Roland Garros, a French reporter asked Richard Gasquet, “Which pain is worse: the one in your soul, or the one in your body?”

• When introducing his wife Stefanie Graf before her induction into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, Andre Agassi said, “As I attempt to find words worthy to introduce the person that has changed my life, I realize that the words have yet to be invented that are large enough…true enough to express the heart and soul of this woman I love.” 

• “I sold my soul to him.” – Svitolina on her husband Gael Monfils 

• Nick Kyrgios calls himself “the old soul of the tour.”

• Stefanos Tsitsipas shared the observation of Canadian photographer Ted Grant: “When you photograph people in color you photograph their clothes. When you photograph people in black and white you photograph their souls.

• Ivan Lendl said Andre Agassi was “a forehand and a haircut.” Juan Martin del Potro was said to be “a forehand and a soul.”

GUESS WHAT? There’s no Rafa, no Roger, no Serena and no Venus here, but the Open is doing just fine.

WITHDRAWING AS A TENNIS WAY OF LIFE: Withdrawing before tourneys or during matches is a happening thing. Noami Osaka was an early leader. She pulled out of the 2020 Western and Southern Open in support of racial justice and, after her press boycott, she withdrew from Roland Garros and Wimbledon. Federer pulled out of Roland Garros, Toronto, Cincy and then the rest of 2021. At Wimbledon he was helped when his foe, Adrian Manarino, quit. In Paris, Lorenzo Musetti was getting hammered so badly by Nole he just threw in the towel late in the fifth set. The injured Serena and Nick Kyrgios pulled out of their Wimbledon matches. No. 338 Emma Raducanu had breathing troubles and retired from her fourth-round Wimbledon match. Perpetual critic Piers Morgan soon drew push-back when he claimed the 18-year-old was “not brave,” and should “toughen up.” And Djokovic was a no-show for his Olympics bronze medal mixed doubles match. Now there have been more withdrawals, including the mid-match pullout Tuesday night by Carlos Alcaraz as he played his quarterfinal match against Felix Auger-Aliassime.

QUOTEBOOK:

“[My dad] told me that I put him through hell and back with this match.” – Leylah Fernandez after downing Elina Svitolina

“You can go an entire career without hearing the score 13-12.” – Pam Shriver just before Belinda Bencic won her first-set tiebreak over Iga Swiatek, 14-12

“It can’t get any worse – you’ve lost to her every time. So try something different.” – Shelby Rogers’ advice to herself before she downed No. 1 Ash Barty, whom she had lost to four times this year and had never beaten in five matches

ANDY RODDICK, THE SERVE DOCTOR: Power-meister Andy Roddick, who was known for his thunderous serve, said he could upgrade Jenson Brooksby’s modest serve if the Californian came to his house in Austin for four days. Critics noted that even Coco Gauff serves bigger than Brooksby, whose range is often 100-110 mph. Darren Cahill said it’s a plus to pick a legendary player’s brain. Others suggested that Brooksby might go to Texas and in four days vastly upgrade Roddick’s backhand.

CUDDLY SASCHA: When asked if he still has his Olympic gold medal, Zverev quipped, “Yeah, I cuddle with it…I don’t have a girlfriend – I don’t have anyone with me. But I have my gold medal.”

TENNIS WITHOUT BOUNDARIES: It used to be that America’s openness to immigrants was a huge plus for US tennis. Think Navratilova, Lendl, Agassi, Seles, Sampras, and these days, Tiafoe and Korda. More recently, Canada’s openness has paid dividends on court. Milos Raonic’s parents came from Montenegro; Leylah Fernandez’s father is from Ecuador and her mother is Filipino-Canadian; Felix Auger-Aliassime’s father is from Togo and his mother is French-Canadian; Bianca Andreescu’s parents emigrated from Romania, and Denis Shapovalov’s parents are Russian and Israeli. BTW: Emma Raducanu was born in Toronto, and her Romanian father and Chinese mother then moved to Britain.

GO FIGURE: It’s not all that surprising that both Olympic gold medalists Belinda Bencic and Alexander Zverev (who’s on a 15-match winning streak) are through to the quarters. What is surprising is that there are three teens left in the draw: Leylah Fernandez, Emma Raducanu and Carlos Alcaraz. All three are dazzling in their own way, and should entertain for years.

LOVING SOUTH AFRICA: After the otherwise superb South African pro Lloyd Harris donated three double faults while serving for the first set against Reilly Opelka, Jason Goodall asked his fellow broadcaster, South African Cliff Drysdale, “Is that a typical South African response, Cliffey?” Also reflecting on that game, James Blake quipped, “Other than the worst service game in history, it’s going very well for Harris.”

ANOTHER BRITISH INVASION: Brit Emma Raducanu has lost just 32 games in the US Open qualies and main draw, and, in her last two matches, she’s dropped only two games. Chris Fowler observed, “She’s making it very tough to pick against her.” Emma next plays Belinda Bencic.

SAY IT ISN’T SO: Emma Raducanu said rap music makes her sleepy.

THAT’S A RELIEF: When asked to describe her typical day, the delightful Raducanu began by saying, “I wake up in the morning, just like everyone else.”

DELPO SIGHTING: What other superstar has endured more injuries and surgeries than 2009 US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro? If he hadn’t been hobbled so often, he would have been a considerable rival to the Big Three. And how would his presence have impacted the story of today’s game? The beloved Argentine was at the US Open this week and says he plans to return to the tour next year.

BAD BOYS: At the Open this year, the men have been fined $68,000. The biggest fine went to Reilly Opelka, who came on court with an artsy pink bag with too big a logo. The women have been fined only $10,000.

When reflecting on his fine, Opelka said, “I’d love to see it get donated elsewhere. We’ve had a few tragedies here in the States the last couple weeks. If they’re going to take $10K from me, it better not go to a major corporation.”

THE ART OF TENNIS: Opelka’s game impresses mightily, but few would say he’s artistic. Yet, along with Milos Raonic, the two are probably more into art than any other ATP players. Reilly’s growing collection ranges from Friedrich Kunath to Adam Rabinowitz.

LOVE THY ENEMY: Before winning Friday night, Shelby Rogers had lost four times this year to Ash Barty. Still, she gushed about the Aussie. “She is one of the most professional people I’ve ever met, as well as a good person, a funny individual. Just refreshing to see. She’s super down-to-earth…Every time I lose to her, I can’t be mad because she’s such a nice person…She brings up the energy.”

As for Ash’s road trip this year, Rogers said, “A lot of people are taking it for granted. She hasn’t been able to go home since February…She’s won five titles. She’s remained No. 1. This girl is everything every player wants to be.”

SOME ENCHANTED EVENING: Sadly, Broadway is still in the dark, but the inventive EuroSport broadcaster Chris Bowers lit it up the other evening with a shoutout to the iconic Broadway duo of Rogers and Hammerstein. When Shelby Rogers triumphed over No. 1 Ash Barty, Bowers quipped, “It’s some enchanted evening for Rogers!”

ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER CONTROVERSY: At last, the choppy waters of controversy receded. Days of hand wringing and turmoil were now in the Open’s rear view mirror. Tsitsipas’ frequent forays off court and subsequent accusations of gamesmanship, along with impassioned defenses, were no longer grabbing the Open’s oxygen. A little-known Dutchman came out of nowhere to reach the quarterfinals, and Leylah Fernandez unleashed a charm offensive that melted hearts. New York was beaming.

But the bliss didn’t last long. All hell soon broke out at the net. Then again, there’s a long history of US Open confrontations at the net. Remember when Irina Spirlea collided with Venus Williams in 1998?

Sunday night, Garbine Muguruza was staging an intense comeback effort when, at 5-6 in the second set, her foe, Barbora Krejcikova, felt abdominal pain, had trouble breathing and went off court for a nine-minute medical time out. When she came back, the French Open champ played slowly, and repeatedly went to her towel. All the while she played lights out, winning seven straight points to nail a 6-3, 7-6 victory.

Then at the net, the Czech said, “Thank you, I’m sorry.” Garbine wasn’t buying it. She shook her head in disbelief and said, “So unprofessional.” Later she said, “I don’t really want to talk about this…I think, between players, you know a little bit how to behave in certain moments. And, yeah, I wasn’t very happy at the end of the match.”

In a statement, Barbora explained, “At the end I was really struggling and I feel really bad right now. I don’t really know what happened but I couldn’t breathe. I started to feel dizzy and the whole world was shaking. It never happened to me before. I just gave my all at the end. It’s tough because it was my first time on such a big court playing the night session and I was really having fun until then.”

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1 COMMENT

  1. Bye-bye Barbora!

    Venus is so over I can not imagine that she is still in the conversation.

    Fernadez makes one want to ask, “Why even talk about other young players.” Ie. Coco Gauff

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