It began in Acapulco and then 1299km away in Monterrey the star in Mexico these last few weeks was Canadian teenager Leylah Fernandez.
Leylah already grabbed some headlines this year defeating Belinda Bencic in a live Fed Cup rubber but headed to Acapulco ranked at 191 in the world and is now set to climb to around 118 in the world which would be a career high ranking.
Her week in Acapulco was a busy one having to come through qualifying and then defeating an impressive three top 100 players in a row as she made the semi-finals. The Mexican wildcard Renata Zarazua stood in her way of a place in the final but came through 6-3 6-3.
In the final of Acapulco the teenager lost to Britain’s Heather Watson but put on a fantastic effort forcing three sets from the Brit who had to wait until her 10th match point to win her first title since 2016.
Leylah was due to play Monterrey qualifying the same day as the Acapulco final but was given a special exemption from the event to go straight into the main draw. You wouldn’t have been surprised if the teenager was tired but she just turned up and got the job done again making the quarter finals in Monterrey following wins against Voegele and Sloane Stephens before falling 4-6 5-7 to Elina Svitolina.
There is a lot to like about the 17 year old’s game, the way she has composed herself on the tennis court has been fantastic at such a young age to have that control is magnificent. I do think it is good to see emotion and disappointment on the court and we saw this against Watson when she slipped 0-4 down. Leylah reacted perfectly, she rallied, didn’t waste any time and was business like in her progression into the match
Why she reminds me of Maria Sharapova?
I said in the sentence above it was business like from the Canadian, it reminded me of Maria Sharapova. The walk to the seat and to the court it was a woman focused and on a mission.
Whether she hit an error, winner or just took part in a long rally the reset from her was reminiscent of the way Sharapova used to go about her business at the back of the court. Leylah like Maria would walk to the back of the court, look at her racket, jump on the spot and reset.
Something like this you pick up immediately especially as an opponent because you can’t upset that rhythm. There was no panic at all during the couple of weeks in Mexico and she continued to play her game very well.
Scope on the lefty forehand
I am naturally left handed but I don’t use a lefty forehand a lot, I use it to create space which is why I call it the ‘artists paintbrush’. The way she strikes her forehand is alike to Nadal but it isn’t all about hitting that magnificent winner it’s building a point like an artist begins a painting, they see what they are going to do and we can see this below:
image credit – WTA
It’s a clever shot, we know from this position where it is going. Leylah wraps her left wrist around the racket and will generate more power going back inside.
It is highly unlikely that a left handed person in this position would go cross court into that pink box and Sloane know’s that as you can see her feet moving to the left.
The reason you won’t see a left handed person go into that cross court position is because the power won’t come from the wrist/arm. Back inside and the arm is close to the body and easy to generate power. If you go cross court the wingspan needs to be greater and the wrist will naturally be further away from the body making it difficult to generate power through the arm but instead it would be like falling into the ball to hit it via your chest.
In this instance Leylah does go inside and as I said like an artists paintbrush, she paints the picture and comes inside immediately to put the smash away at the net. The scope you can produce with this lefty forehand is quite incredible. Different speeds, power and it’s made to look so easy.
Sloane recognised this but a lefty always has time to run around and Sloane played a lot of traffic early on to her backhand and that stood up well too!
Flat backhand powered through the legs and shoulders!
Whether it is a two handed right handed backhand or a two handed left handed backhand the power generates through your legs and shoulders. The flatness and velocity of the ball makes it one of the most feared shots in tennis.
We have rightly waxed lyrical over Nadal’s forehand over the years but when he steps into the backhand it isn’t coming back at him with interest at all.
This is what Leylah on all three occasions I have put together:
image credit – WTA
What stands out immediately? The right leg, it’s behind ready to follow through after she’s hit the shot. It allows her to generate the power through her standing left left, into her shoulders and her right leg follows to settle and get ready to move again, it was a constant.
The one you can see where she hooks it she does look like she’s taken the ball a little too early and wasn’t set as you can see she is slightly stretched at this point but hits the winner.
The one I want to focus on is the one I zoomed in on. Central in the court and this play is so technically clever, it was brutal for Sloane who couldn’t do anything with it.
Leylah crouches down slightly which brings the right leg further back and if anything creates more risk hitting a flat backhand the error for margin suddenly increases.
The way she struck the ball was bullet like and you can see the precision in the height of the follow-through on her racket. It was a clean winner from the Canadian who performed incredibly well in a busy 10 days or so.
Leylah will be at a career high of 118 on Monday, it is a matter of time before she breaks into the top 100 on the WTA tour and will just be the second under 18 year old in the top 100 alongside Coco Gauff.
As a reward for her recent run of results and performances the teenager has been rewarded with a wildcard into the main draw at Indian Wells but of course that did not go ahead.