Leylah Annie Fernandez could not refuse such an invitation. The 17-year-old Quebecer will participate from June 23, in Charleston, South Carolina, in a first professional tennis tournament with new health standards to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“It’s been a long time since I played an official match, I can’t wait to find that feeling“Admits Fernandez from her home in Boynton Beach, Florida, where she has been waiting for this moment for more than three months.
This competition, which is not on the WTA calendar, is a tournament in which only 16 players have been invited to take part in a team formula.
Americans Madison Keys and Bethanie Mattek-Sands have been named captains and will draft a draft on Monday to define their roster. A total of 16 singles and 8 doubles matches will be scheduled until June 28.
The Credit One Bank Invitational will notably welcome the champion of the Australian Open, Sofia Kenin, and several elite players including Sloane Stephens, Victoria Azarenka, Amanda Anisimova and Monica Puig, Olympic champion in Rio four years ago.
The defending champion of the United States Open, Bianca Andreescu, who was to take part in the tournament, finally preferred to withdraw without specifying the reason for his package. Fernandez is not the only Canadian registered, Eugenie Bouchard will also be in Charleston.
“I’m happy to be able to play, but I’m still a little scared since I have to travel. It is a first step towards returning to normal. You have to follow the rules put in place by governments and doctors.”
Leylah Annie Fernandez, crowned junior champion at Roland Garros last year, has been informed of the restrictions awaiting her there.
“Only two guests can accompany me. My trainer Romain Derrider and my mother will be by my side. Upon my arrival, I will have to be tested. I can only use my own balls and keep my distance from my rivals. No handshake or hug. If we do it right, maybe tennis can come back faster like before. ”
Many players have expressed concerns about the feasibility of returning to the game. To reduce the risk of the virus emerging, organizers of the United States Open, taking place from August 31 in New York, have already announced the cancellation of the qualification tournament which provided the opportunity for the lowest ranked players to carve out a place on the main draw. The number of participants in the doubles tournament has also been reduced and the mixed doubles event has been removed from the program.
Canada’s Gabriella Dabrowski, a doubles specialist, strongly criticized this decision, which she said will damage parity on the circuit.
“It is certain that the grand slam tournaments provide many points that allow to climb the ranking, explains Fernandez who, with his 118th place in the world, is not sure of reaching the main draw at Flushing Meadows. I am a little disappointed, but my team remains confident that I will be able to participate in this tournament.”
At the United States Open, players will also have to contend with many constraints to comply with the health rules put in place to counter the coronavirus. There will be no spectators in the stands.
“It’s going to be very difficult, because I like to feed on the energy of the crowd, positive or negative. Athletes want to feel this presence. I trust the organizers of the US Open to provide us with a safe place. If that’s the right way …”