Leylah Annie Fernandez clinches opening win to advance in Olympic tennis
18-year-old from Laval, Que. secures victory in three sets
Canada's Leylah Annie Fernandez battled to a win over Dayana Yastremska of Ukraine on Saturday to advance to the second round of the Tokyo Olympics tennis tournament.
Fernandez, ranked No. 72 on the WTA Tour, won 6-3, 3-6, 6-0 against world No. 46 at the Ariake Tennis Park in Tokyo.
It's a first Olympic appearance for the 18-year-old from Laval, Que. She'll next play the Czech Republic's Barbora Krejcikova — the 2021 French Open champion — after her opponent, Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan, retired with injury.
While Yastremeska came back to find her rhythm in the second set, Fernandez kept her intensity throughout the third. The Canadian converted on three of four break points.
"I'm very happy with myself. I fought for every point...she's a great player," Fernandez said.
The heat in Tokyo was battle in itself.
"I tried to tell myself I'm good — I just got to fight through it, get over that hurdle," she said.
Fernandez played her match around 12 hours after walking in the opening ceremony as part of Team Canada on Friday.
"It's my first Olympics. I really wanted to do that walk even though I was going to play the next day. I just had to be mentally prepared for the difficulties of the next day, and I think I managed it well," she said.
Seeing other competitors parade with pride and confidence, she said, inspired her.
"That gave me more enthusiasm to get on the court and to give it my all."
WATCH | Fernandez moves to 2nd round:
Meanwhile, Gabriela Dabrowski and Sharon Fichman lost their opener 7-6(3), 6-4 against Brazil's Luisa Stefani and Laura Pigossi in the first round of doubles.
Also advancing Saturday were world No. 8 Iga Swiatek of Poland, world No. 12 Belinda Bencic and Viktorija Golubic of Switzerland, Kazakhstan's Elena Rybakina, Greece's Maria Sakkari, Germany's Anna-Lena Friedsam, Serbia's Nina Stojanovic, Japan's Misaki Doi, Sweden's Rebecca Peterson, Paula Badosa of Spain, Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic, and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of the Russian Olympic Committee. The Czech Republic's Barbora Krejcikova also advanced when her opponent, Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan, retired down 5-2 in the first set.
On the men's side, Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime of Montreal will play Andy Murray, who won gold at both the 2012 London and 2016 Rio Olympics, in his first-round match on Sunday.
Heat an issue
Heat and humidity quickly became a major issue when the Olympic tennis tournament opened Saturday. The temperature soared to 34 C and the heat index made it feel more than 38.
"You're just not feeling great," Pavlyuchenkova said. "So I wasn't enjoying it at all."
Pavlyuchenkova, this year's French Open runner-up, was stuffing bags of ice up her skirt on one changeover in the second set, and tried to adjust a tube meant to blow cold air on the players.
"It's not easy to find the right position because it's just on the bench and somebody has to hold it so the air is blowing on you," she said.
Ice was also melting in court-side containers.
"Every time I had to take the ice pack or ice towel it wasn't cold at all," Pavlyuchenkova said. "They expected the heat and it wasn't 100 per cent ready for us."
Still, Pavlyuchenkova routed Sara Errani of Italy 6-0, 6-1, though she needed an hour to recover after the match before she was able to speak to reporters.
Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic's bid for a Golden Slam is alive and well following a routine 6-2, 6-2 win over 139th-ranked Hugo Dellien of Bolivia.
The top-ranked Serb is attempting to become the first man to win all four major tennis tournaments and an Olympic singles gold medal in the same year.
He, too, suffered in the heat.
"You feel constantly dehydrated," said Djokovic, who played later in the day when half of the court was in the shade. "There's no circulation of the air."
Second-seeded Daniil Medvedev, who also competes for ROC at the Tokyo Games, called it "some of the worst" heat he has played in after eliminating Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan 6-4, 7-6 (8).
"I'm not going to lie. But you have to play," Medvedev said. "That's the Olympics, you go for the medal. You are not here to cry about the heat."
Medvedev suggested that organizers move all matches to the evening to avoid the heat of the day.
"I don't think they are going to change anything in the middle of the tournament, but that's what can be done," he said. "I think the fact that we have only one minute between the changeovers is a joke. ... It should be 1:30 like it is in other tournaments."
"I sincerely don't understand it," he said, adding that later starts would also better suit broadcasters in the United States and Europe because of the time difference.
WATCH | Djokovic cruises to 1st-round win in Tokyo:
There are rules for extreme heat that call for a 10-minute break between the second and third sets if players request it. Play can also be suspended if an internal advisory group deems conditions dangerous — in which case play would continue on centre court under a retractable roof.
In other men's singles action, two Italian players ousted opponents from host country Japan on Saturday. Italy's Lorenzo Sonego beat Taro Daniel in three sets, while Fabio Fognini ousted Yuichi Sugita in two sets.
Other winner's on the men's side include Croatia's Marin Cilic, Spain's Alejandro Davidovich Fokina and Pablo Carreno Busta, Aslan Karatsev of the Russian Olympic Committee, Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia, Ugo Humbert and Jeremy Chardy of France, Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany, Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia, Egor Gerasimov of Belarus, John Millman of Australia and Sumit Nagal of India.
With files from The Associated Press