Tennis Star Leylah Fernández Credits Her Winning Streak to Her Heritage, Saying “Latino Values Make Me a Winner on the Tennis Court”
Leylah Fernández became a household name in the world of sports last year when she won second place at the US Open, after a hard-fought and historical tennis match against Emma Raducanu.
Their battle and the posterior photo of them with their trophies in hand, and smiles as huge as their dreams, became an inspiring image for all immigrant children. Raducanu is English, with Chinese and Romanian parents. Fernández, as her last name hints, is Canadian of Filipino and Ecuadorian ancestry.
mitú caught up with Fernández in Miami, where she was competing at the Miami Open. At 19-years-old, she is the only Latina ranked as the top 50 best women tennis players in the world. “Tennis is a hard sport and to become good at it, you need to have a family that can support you,” she explained. Of course, most Latino parents don’t have the time or financial availability to dedicate to supporting a budding tennis player. “I was lucky because my dad threw himself into the world of tennis to be with me every step of the way,” she added.
Born in Guayaquil, Ecuador, Jorge Fernández moved to Montreal when he was 4-years-old. With a career as a player and coach in soccer, he taught himself tennis to guide young Leylah and her sister Bianca in the sport. “I entered the world of tennis to help my daughter because I promised her that I would help her to achieve her dreams,” he revealed in an interview with Ecuador’s Radio Satelital.
“Mi papá always told me that no matter what, I had to find a way to go to bed at the end of the day with a smile,” she said. “And, I do, even when things haven’t gone my way. That is how we Latinos find success, I think, because no matter how hard things are, we find ways to dance, be appreciative of one another, to find joy in life. I think that is what makes us special. Our strength, our capacity to outwork anybody, comes from that joy,” she said, adding, “los Latinos always find a way. I bring those values to the court and make me a winner, win or lose!”
For Fernández, the passage to that joyous space, even on the tennis court, is music. “I love reggaeton. OMG! I listen to it all the time,” she says. Her favorite artists? “J. Balvin, that’s my favorite, and Bad Bunny, of course.”
And she was adamant about sharing that in her home — now located in Florida’s Boynton Beach (65 miles north of Miami) — there is TV and music in Spanish “all the time.”
“If my mom is cooking, there is music, if my dad is home, there is soccer on. Yes, we are Canadian, yes we live in the U.S., but we are also a Latino household,” she highlights in an almost perfect Spanish. Being French-Canadian, she also speaks English and French. Yes, our Latina Tennis Queen is trilingual.
There are some amazing tennis players of Hispanic heritage in the circuit right now, starting with his highness El Rey Rafa Nadal. Venezuelan-Spanish Garbiñe Muguruza is the 9th best woman player in the world. But there is something special about seeing a first-generation Latina slaying it on the tennis court, especially one that is both a sweetheart and a savage, an inspiration and a source of orgullo for all of us.
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