TORONTO — Leylah Annie Fernandez isn’t letting a tough result get in the way of a big year for the Canadian teenager on the women’s tennis scene.
The 16-year-old from Laval, Que., flashed a bright smile at her press conference Monday following her main draw debut at the Rogers Cup — a swift 6-0, 6-1 loss to qualifier Marie Bouzkova on centre court.
“Who wants to break the ice?” Fernandez said with a laugh as she took her seat in front of a dozen reporters.
Fernandez won only 37 per cent of her first-service points and lost the match in just over an hour in front of a half-filled day session crowd of supporters at Aviva Centre.
Though she’s played on big stages before — she won the French Open girls title earlier this year on Court Philippe Chatrier — Fernandez admitted that nerves played a part in her performance Monday.
“I felt a little bit more nervous here because I was at home,” she said. ”This stadium is — I feel it’s much more special just because it’s in Canada.”
Serving while down 5-1 in the second set, Fernandez held off two match points but couldn’t hold off the third. She left the court to a loud applause and showed her appreciation by clapping at the crowd.
The Canadian, who won’t turn 17 for another month, also received a hearty applause when she fired an ace past Bouzkova to win her only game of the match in the second set.
“Just stepping on court and hearing the screams of the Canadians over here, it was amazing,” Fernandez said.
“Too bad I couldn’t play my best, but I did what I could today and I just made some mistakes.”
Bouzkova, ranked No. 91, converted 6-of-8 break points and was never broken as she advanced to the second round, where she’ll face a much tougher opponent in American Sloane Stephens — the seventh seed at the tournament and 2017 U.S. Open champion.
Fernandez won her first pro tournament at the ITF Gatineau Challenger last month. That, followed by a finals appearance at Granby, Que., a week later, allowed her to rocket 115 spots up the standings from the start of July to No. 260 entering Monday.
Her goal is to crack the top 200 by the end of the year. And the aspirations don’t stop there.
“I would love to play Grand Slams, win as many as I can, and be No. 1 in the world,” she said.
Fernandez, whose family moved to Florida so she and her sister could play tennis more regularly, thanked Tennis Canada (twice) during her press conference for giving her a wild card at the WTA Premier 5 tournament.
She also played in last year’s Rogers Cup in Montreal as a 15-year-old, but lost in the second round of qualifying.
“It was a great opportunity and I saw where my level was at,” Fernandez said of her first main-draw match. ”And I know what I need to work on for next time.”
While her singles debut ended quickly, Fernandez’s tournament isn’t over yet. She will team up with Wimbledon champion (and defending Rogers Cup champ) Simona Halep of Romania in doubles action.
Fernandez said Halep was looking for a doubles partner in Toronto and chose her from a list of Canadians.
“And of course I accepted right away. I said yes with big smiles,” Fernandez said. ”I was very excited to meet her and to say thank you and congratulations to her.”
When the teen’s cell phone started buzzing on the podium mid press conference, Fernandez was asked jokingly if it was Halep calling.
“Hopefully,” she replied before apologizing sheepishly for the interruption.
Fernandez’s match was the second of the day on centre court. Unseeded Ukrainian teenager Dayana Yastremska upset No. 13 Johanna Konta of Britain 6-3, 6-2 in the first match, and Danish star Caroline Wozniacki followed Fernandez with a 6-4, 6-2 victory against Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan.
Wozniacki was broken in the very first game, but broke back twice to take command of the first set and the match.
“I think I just started getting a hold of her serves better from that point on,” Wozniacki said. “Just happy with the win today and now through to the next round.”
Also Monday, Belgium’s Elise Mertens beat Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus to advance to the second round against Serena Williams. American qualifier Jennifer Brady will face Halep in the second round after topping wild card Kristina Mladenovic. And Sofia Kenin of the U.S. beat Su-Wei Hsieh to set up a second-round matchup with world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty of Australia.
Anett Kontaveit of Estonia ousted Russia’s Maria Sharapova 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, while Russia’s Daria Kasatkina upset Germany’s Angelique Kerber 0-6, 6-2, 6-4 in evening play.
Kasatkina will face the winner of the all-Canadian first-round matchup between Eugenie Bouchard and Bianca Andreescu scheduled for Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Belinda Bencic of Switzerland, the 2015 Rogers Cup champion, beat teen qualifier Anastasia Potapova 6-2, 6-2 and Julia Goerges of Germany edged Polona Hercog 6-3, 1-6, 7-6 (5).
Bouchard of Westmount, Que., and Sharon Fichman of Toronto dropped their doubles opener 7-6 (8), 6-3. Canadians Francoise Abanda and Carson Branstine also lost their first doubles match.
Bouchard opens her singles tournament Tuesday night against Mississauga, Ont., teenager Bianca Andreescu.