Last year, Leylah Annie Fernandez achieved a childhood dream by winning the French Open junior title, but when asked what she remembers most about that day her immediate thoughts are about what happened after the championship match.
"Eating McDonald's at the Airbnb with my dad as our celebration," she said with a big smile. "It was the best celebration I could ask for."
Fernandez enjoyed a Big Mac, fries and an iced tea.
"We can't forget that she's still a kid," said Jorge Fernandez, Leylah's father and coach. "It was the cherry on top of a long journey."
** TSN2 will show the 2019 Roland Garros junior girls singles championship match Sunday at 9 pm ET **
This week is so special to me. One year ago today I was playing one of the most memorable weeks of my junior tennis career at @rolandgarros. Missing tennis and that red clay a little more than usual today. pic.twitter.com/mCeXl4OdhH— leylahfernandez (@leylahfernandez) May 26, 2020
After losing to Cori "Coco" Gauff in the semifinals of the junior French Open in 2018, Fernandez made winning Roland Garros her big goal in 2019. It was personal for the Quebec native, who fell in love with the sport by watching Rafael Nadal and Justine Henin slide to success at Court Philippe-Chatrier.
"It was one of the first tournaments I saw on TV," she said, "that really inspired me to want to play at the French Open one day and hopefully bring back the trophy."
Fernandez crushed her opponents on the crushed red brick last year, lifting the trophy without losing a set.
"She was more mature and knew where she wanted to go and that allowed her to be at peace," Jorge observed.
Fernandez is on the professional tour a year later, having surged up to No. 118 in the WTA rankings thanks to an excellent start to the season that saw her qualify for the Australian Open and make the final in Acapulco.
During the pandemic, the Fernandez family has been camped out at their Boynton Beach training base in Florida. Leylah and younger sister, Bianca, a promising junior player, have revived their sibling rivalry to keep the competitive juices flowing.
"It's been hard, because I'm the big sister and want to protect my little sister," noted Leylah, "but when I'm on the court, my dad and my coach always remind me to make it hard on her so she'll learn. We always trash talk each other."
With a smile, Jorge admits he often initiates the war of words.
"There's still a respect within the trash talk," he stresses. "I like to see it, because it puts a spice into the practice. The loser takes five minutes to recuperate, but then it's nice. And you know what? It makes them tougher."
Leylah will finally have some new rivals next month as she's one of 16 players scheduled to take part in the Credit One Bank Invitational in Charleston, S.C. Among those also on the entry list are Bianca Andreescu and Sofia Kenin, the last two major winners, as well as Victoria Azarenka, Genie Bouchard and Sloane Stephens.
The annual clay court tournament at the venue, the Volvo Car Open, was cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak.
"It's an amazing opportunity," Leylah said of the team event, which starts June 23. "I'm able to play against players in the top 100, top 50, and even some players in the top 10, so to be invited to that tournament gives me motivation to train harder."
But playing in the age of COVID-19 isn't straightforward and Jorge says they're planning to make the eight-hour drive up the coast rather than risk flying.
"Anyone who tells you they aren't concerned, I don't think they're looking at the facts really well," Jorge said. "I'm glad the tournament will have rules and guidelines to follow... we have to tread carefully and be aware that this can happen to anybody and if it can happen to anybody then we’re all at risk. So at some point I take off my coach hat and say, 'I’m a father.'"
Once Leylah gets on court, Jorge is expecting her to pick up right where she left off.
"The one thing Leylah has going for herself is that she's young so she's bringing a lot of energy and a lot of enthusiasm," he said.