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With a Grand Slam junior title, Leylah Annie Fernandez has met one of her three goals this year

Leylah Annie Fernandez of Canada during the girls juniors singles final against Emma Navarro of The United States at the French Open at Roland Garros on June 8, 2019 in Paris, France.
Leylah Annie Fernandez of Canada during the girls juniors singles final against Emma Navarro of The United States at the French Open at Roland Garros on June 8, 2019 in Paris, France.

Leylah Annie Fernandez is the No. 1 junior tennis player in the world after winning the girls title at the French Open on Saturday .

But the 16-year-old from Laval, Quebec, faces bigger challenges as she prepares to make the transition to professional tennis.

“The French Open may have been my last junior tournament and, if it is, I’m glad that I could finish my junior career the way I did,” Fernandez said Tuesday as she dropped into Montreal for a brief visit before heading to her training base in Boynton Beach, Fla.

Fernandez will take some time off to unwind and, when she returns to the court, she will play in a series of ITF Challenger professional events in Saskatoon, Gatineau and Granby.

“I’d like to qualify for the Rogers Cup,” said Fernandez. “I had three goals coming into this year: I wanted to win a Grand Slam junior title, which I just did, I want to be healthy at the end of the year and I want to be in the top 200 in the WTA Tour rankings.”

The transition won’t be easy for Fernandez, who is currently No. 371 in the women’s rankings.

At 5-foot-3, she isn’t tall and she’s not very strong. Sylvain Bruneau, the captain of Canada’s Fed Cup team, said Fernandez thrives because she moves well, she has great anticipation and she’s feisty. One of her heroes is Justine Henin-Hardenne, the Belgian who achieved the No. 1 ranking in the WTA even though she was only 5-foot-5.

“The most important thing she needs to work on is to believe in herself at the higher level and be more consistent,” said Jorge Fernandez, who is her father and coach. “In the juniors, you can make a few mistakes here and there and they’re kind enough to give them back to you. At the higher level, you make those mistakes and you end up paying for them dearly.”

A more formidable obstacle may be money.

“We’ve been working on a shoestring budget,” said Jorge Fernandez, who sat down with Tennis Canada this week to discuss some financial help.

“She’s attractive internationally because she can speak three languages (English, French and Spanish) and people are becoming more aware since she won a Grand Slam junior title and we’re having some discussions with potential sponsors,” said Jorge Fernandez. “Will it be enough? I highly doubt it. She still has a lot of proving to do, she’s 371 in the world. The conversation will be great if she’s able to get deep in the Rogers Cup or win a few rounds in a Grand Slam. But we’re talking a year away from that.”

“She’s going to turn pro and we’re going to need some heavy financing,” continued Fernandez. “This is going to turn into a numbers game, and that’s a whole different problem we’re going to have to face. We need a team for her at some point. We don’t have a physio, we don’t even have a family doctor. You get a form at a tournament that asks you who’s your family doctor and we don’t have one.”

Fernandez père also knows there’s only so far he can take his daughter as a coach and has already started looking for someone to help him.

Leylah Annie said she’s grateful for the sacrifices her parents have made. She described her father as a tough taskmaster on the court, but “when we’re at home, he’s a softie.”

Leylah Annie isn’t Jorge’s only pupil. He also coaches her younger sister, Bianca Jolie. The 15-year-old reached the quarterfinals of a $15,000 ITF Futures event earlier this year. When asked to assess her younger sister’s potential, Leylah Annie said: “She could be better than me.”

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