MONTREAL — It may not have been the result Montreal tennis fans were hoping for Leylah Fernandez, but the one thing of which they are certain is she's put herself on the map with her US Open performance.
Fernandez, 19, lost the final of the prestigious tournament on Saturday in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3, to 18-year-old Emma Raducanu of Britain, ending a stunning performance that included defeating four seeded players along the way, including defending champion Naomi Osaka.
But for Michael Hill, one dozens of people gathered outside Cafe Vito in the city's Villeray district, there weren't any losers on this afternoon.
“If people didn’t know who Fernandez was, they’ll know from now on," Hill said, adding it'll be a pleasure to watch Fernandez and Raducanu, who was born in Toronto, battle for years to come. “We’re very proud of Fernandez no matter the result.”
For his part, Hill said he liked what the homegrown Fernandez brought to the court.
“Her resilience, her force, her determination, the personality, the family behind it, I think it’s quite a beautiful story that we can get behind and it’s a good way to end off the summer," Hill said.
“But all eyes are turned on Fernandez right now and with her age, we’ll be seeing a lot more of her for the years to come.”
Fernandez is ranked 73rd and had never been past the third round in her previous six appearances at majors.
Many of those gathered to watch confessed they hadn't heard much of her until her recent run, which one fan predicted will transform her into a role model for many young athletes.
“There’s some pride in seeing a young Quebecer making a Grand Slam final, at her age, there’s some maturity for sure,” said Mathieu Meyer, a Montreal resident. "The message is wherever you rank, you can do great things.”
Fernandez, of Laval, Que., but who's based in Boynton Beach, Fla., beat four seeded players along the way, including defending champion Naomi Osaka.
Etienne Brunelle-Leclerc stopped to take in a few minutes of the final. He ended up staying until the end at the cafe, just a few blocks from Montreal's tennis venue, IGA Stadium.
“It’s pretty amazing to see, I remember a few years ago she was this tiny kid and they were already saying she’s gonna be somebody, she has real talent,” he said. “And lo and behold, she’s in the finals.”
Fernandez told the crowd in New York that she would be back again next year aiming to win.
Fernandez was one of two Canadians (and Quebecers) to have a solid run in the tournament. Montreal's Felix Auger-Aliassime reached the men's singles semifinals before falling to Russia's Daniil Medvedev on Friday afternoon.
The last Canadian to win a Grand Slam singles title was Bianca Andreescu of Mississauga, Ont., who won the US Open in 2019.
“You’re a young player growing up in Montreal thinking Flushing Meadows is really far away,” Brunelle-Leclerc said. “But looking at Fernandez and the others that came before her, the message is it doesn’t have to be.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 11, 2021.
Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press