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Fernandez, Townsend fall in women's doubles final at Roland-Garros

Taylor Townsend, Leylah Annie Fernandez Taylor Townsend, Leylah Annie Fernandez - The Canadian Press

PARIS — Canada' Leylah Fernandez fell just short in her quest to win her first Grand Slam title Sunday at the French Open.

Fernandez and American partner Taylor Townsend were defeated 1-6, 7-6 (5), 6-1 by the unseeded team of Hsieh Su-Wei of Taiwan and and Wang Xinyu of China in the women's doubles final at Roland Garros stadium.

As with countrywoman Bianca Andreescu in the mixed doubles final, Fernandez, of Laval, Que., came within a set of the big prize, but couldn’t quite get over the hump.

Fernandez and Townsend began the match on fire. It took just 30 minutes to finish off the first set in emphatic fashion.

But they knew the wily, unpredictable Hsieh, a 37-year-old former doubles No. 1 just returning from 18 months away from the game, would make adjustments.

The winning pair had even less experience together than Fernandez and Townsend. It was only their second tournament together and Wang, just 21, had a doubles ranking outside the top 100 coming into Paris.

The Can-American team had already fashioned more than one comeback during their brief history together.

Crunch time came in the fifth game of the third set when, down 1-3, Fernandez and Townsend had four break points to get the match back on serve.

If they could do that, anything was still possible.

But they couldn’t convert. Notably, Fernandez had a couple of open-court looks on the cross-court backhand return, with Hsieh committing towards the middle of the court early. But she netted both.

That game alone took more than 10 minutes And once lost, it seemed all the wind was gone from Fernandez and Townsend’s sails, after a fortnight of brilliant play and growing confidence.

Hsieh is now a two-time winner at Roland Garros and five-time Grand Slam doubles champion — with the other three titles coming at Wimbledon. Hsieh and Peng Shuai won the women’s doubles final at the 2014 French Open. Fernandez took the defeat pretty hard.

“I think we were just so close and there's just a couple of mistakes from my part in key moments and I was just, like, if I could have done a different play here and there, maybe the result would be different. We'll never know,” Fernandez said. “I'm just super proud the way that we found solutions for every match since the very beginning. We just kept getting better and better and communicating better.”

Fernandez said earlier in the week that she was learning from Townsend how to turn the page on those defeats more quickly.

Her partner certainly would not let her dwell on this one.

She stood right in front of her as they awaited the trophy ceremony, hands on her shoulders, looking directly at her — and was having none of it.

“I mean, I keep it real. So I didn't do it for the cameras or for the look or anything. I truly was looking at Leylah in her eyes, and I said, ‘No. So what that we lost. So what? It's our first Slam,’ ” Townsend said. “We had opportunities, for sure, and so it's easy to get caught up in that. So I could feel that it was emotional.

“I've now been in two Grand Slam doubles finals. She's been in a Grand Slam singles final. It's just experience. We chalk it up and we move forward. But this isn't the end. It's only June,” Townsend added.

“What she told me at the end of the match — of course I was upset, but that lasted like two, three minutes. And then afterwards, I was just able to see the bigger picture, which I saw thanks to Taylor,” Fernandez said.

Throughout the ceremony, in which Fernandez addressed the crowd in French, Townsend kept an arm around Fernandez’s shoulder in solidarity.

For Fernandez, the now-concluded clay-court season was a struggle to find rhythm and momentum.

Her second-round loss in singles in Paris will drop her singles ranking from No. 49 to No. 94 on Monday. And that will make it more complicated to get into the bigger tournaments for the rest of 2023 unless she is able to start putting more wins together.

Fernandez missed the entire grass-court season in 2022 after suffering a stress fracture in her foot during her quarterfinal singles loss to Martina Trevisan in Paris.

She didn’t return until the National Bank Open in Toronto last August.

In her professional grass debut in 2021, she went 1-2. That included a first-round loss at Wimbledon.

So the 20-year-old is still a neophyte on the slippery surface with all to gain, everything to learn and few expectations.

Fernandez plans to play in Berlin (the week of June 19) and then Bad Homburg, Germany in the lead up to Wimbledon, which begins July 3.

With files from the Associated Press.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 11, 2023.