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At just 19 years old, Canadian tennis player Leylah Fernandez is already ranked 19th in the world. Reaching such milestones at an exceptionally young age is a dream many have, while few achieve it. Fortunately for Fernandez, she’s been impressing and inspiring fans since she made it to the U.S. Open in 2021. But her road to glory wasn’t always paved so smoothly.

Fernandez’s first time facing adversity in the sport came at a young age; she was dropped from Tennis Quebec’s development program when she was seven years old. But rather than moving on to a new sport, Fernandez kept her head down and travelled to courts within her hometown to practice, even during class time. Even though Fernandez was quiet about her victories, her classmates always knew she was a budding superstar. Her focus and agility proved to be immediate differentiators, as was her sheer determination to steadily improve.

In 2019, Fernandez became a Junior Grand Slam champion at the French Open, eventually moving on to defeat tournament favourite, Belinda Bencic, in the qualifying round of the Fed Cup. But Fernandez’s landmark achievement came when she won first place at the Monterrey Open in 2021, vaulting her up the WTA rankings. 

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The majority of her inspiration is credited to an early grade-school teacher. While her classmates and parents validated her dreams of becoming the tennis sensation she is today, her teacher told her she should “focus on school.” Of course, retrospectively, this could have very well just been an educator hoping to emphasize the importance of school, but to someone as competitive as Fernandez, this invalidation made her blood boil. At the moment, she had no way of knowing that instance would help propel her to the U.S. Open Women’s final last September.

Though Fernandez was ultimately defeated in the final, she still stood out, making a name for herself on the international stage of a major tournament. And with several major tournaments still on the horizon this upcoming season, the Canadian is slated to continue her meteoric rise. Most recently, at Indian Wells, the 19-year-old reached the fourth round of the tournament for the second-straight year, surpassing what many expected against a particularly competitive field. But even when obstacles inevitably return, Fernandez has already proven that they’ll do little to stop her momentum. Instead, if her brief history in the sport has told us anything, they’ll only propel her forward.

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