Leylah Fernandez transforms the final set to sink Belinda Bencic at Roland-Garros | French Open 2022

For a brief moment on a chilly afternoon on the sprawling Philippe Chatrier court, it would have been fair to assume that Belinda Bencic was walking away with her third-round match at high speed. She had fought back from a first-set deficit to level at one set all, then established a 2-0, 40-0 lead, distancing herself in the final set.

But in her short career, Leylah Fernandez, who has remained unmoved in the net, has shown that those tight back-to-the-wall moments are often when the best version of herself emerges. Fernandez salvaged the break in that match, went through five of the next six games and beat Bencic 7-5, 3-6, 7-5 to reach the French Open last 16 for the first time.

It’s been eight months since two teenagers, Fernandez and Emma Raducanu, faced off in the US Open final and it’s not just Raducanu whose experiences have demonstrated the complicated nature of following up on a game-breaking result. While the 19-year-old Fernandez won a leg in most tournaments and even won the Monterrey Open in February, her second career WTA title, that tournament brought the only quarter-final she has reached since. september.

The Canadian is extremely ambitious and focused, and those results haven’t lived up to the extremely high standards she’s set for herself. But as Fernandez described her first five months of the season as “ups and downs”, she assessed her progress with startling maturity.

“We don’t see it as – how can I say that? — like a failure, the first five months,” she said. “I see it more because I have a lot to improve and I can just improve. What we want to do is just improve because that’s the beauty of tennis, we have a tournament every week and I “I can just keep working on technical things, tactical things. If it works, that’s great. If it doesn’t work, we can just go back to the drawing board and prepare for the weeks and tournaments to come.”

Leylah Fernandez plays a backhand shot against Belinda Bencic. Photo: Quality Sports Pictures/Getty Images

From New York, Fernandez saw her profile transformed in Canada and a wave of mentions followed. Her Subway commercial airs often, she has a new clothing deal with Lululemon, and her new outfit is marked by ads for Morgan Stanley and Easypost. More than anything, however, she was determined to replicate the tennis she produced there.

“I think after the US Open I put a bit more pressure on myself,” she said. “It’s normal, because I want to reproduce again and again what I did at the US Open. I think after the first tournaments, I accepted not to play the same way every time.

“I’m just going to have to find solutions and keep working hard. Over the year I stuck to it, just put my head down and grind it every day.

The clay courts of Paris are a fitting venue for Fernandez’s first decent performance in a major tournament this year. She already has a pedigree on clay: Junior Roland-Garros champion in 2019, a year later she returned to the top 100 and reached the third round. Against Bencic, she demonstrated all the different accents of her game that fit so well on the box: her heavy left forehand, the sharp angles she can generate on both wings from all parts of the pitch and her leaning for smooth drop shots are all at home on the surface.

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    For Fernandez and all the other players around her in the bottom half of the table, this is a huge opportunity. At the start of the day, Bencic, seeded 14th, was the top-seeded in the section after Barbora Krejcikova, Garbiñe Muguruza, Anett Kontaveit, Ons Jabeur and Maria Sakkari all lost in the first five days.

    Many are young players. Amanda Anisimova, 20, advanced to the fourth round with a slice of luck after Karolina Muchova retired with Anisimova leading 6-7(7) 6-2, 3-0. Coco Gauff, still just 18, calmly handled 36-year-old Kaia Kanepi to reach the fourth round with a 6-3, 6-4 win.

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