Fernandez, Rune take junior honours

The duo clinched maiden Grand Slam glory in the junior ranks with the singles titles at RG.

Leylah Annie Fernandez girls champion Roland Garros 2019©Cédric Lecocq / FFT
 - Alex Sharp

Leylah Annie Fernandez and Holger Vitus Nodskov Rune are destined to be major contenders having scribed their names onto the Roland-Garros roll of honour by winning the junior singles titles. 

Fernandez is the first ever Canadian to clinch the Roland-Garros junior singles title after dispatching eighth seed Emma Navarro 6-3, 6-2 on Saturday.

Meanwhile Rune was forced to dig deep to fend off the challenge of American Toby Kodat 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-0 to replicate the feat of Fernandez for Denmark.

Fernandez, 16, who fell to eventual champion Coco Gauff in last year’s semi-finals, lifted the trophy without dropping a set.

Redemption for Leylah

The top seed also bounced back from losing the Australian Open final to close friend Clara Tauson back in January, making it an extra special triumph for the Canadian.

“Of course this year my goal was to win one junior Grand Slam, I fell short in Australian Open junior. I was very happy to be able to have another opportunity here in Paris and to win it,” declared Fernandez, who has always had a special affection for Roland-Garros.

“I’d like to win all the tournaments, all the Grand Slams, all the tournaments in the world. But Roland-Garros is very special for me because it was the first Grand Slam I watched on TV. So being able to win here as a junior player is very special for me.”

Riding the Canadian wave

Fernandez has been motivated by the soaring success of compatriots such as Bianca Andreescu and Felix Auger-Aliassime making waves on the professional circuit.

“It's very inspiring that Bianca was able to win Indian Wells. And it's a bummer she wasn't able to play here in Roland-Garros. I wanted to see her and congratulate her with all her successes. But I'm happy that Denis (Shapovalov), Felix, Bianca are able to do everything great and it motivates me to do better for the next couple of years and for the future,” praised the Canadian youngster, learning from close quarters about their world class work ethic.

“I have known Felix for a few years, I have practiced beside him when I was younger. I've seen him with his dad and how hard he works. So, it gave me more motivation to really follow him and how he's doing.

“Last year I was able to practice with Bianca a few times and played against her, so I'm happy to get those opportunities.”

Fernandez, able to answer press questions in English, French and Spanish, hopes that her dedication and attitude can fire her to competing full-time on the WTA Tour by next year’s Roland-Garros.

“I believe it's a fighting spirit. I don't let go,” the Canadian said describing her strengths. “All points are important to me from the first to the last. Even when I'm losing, I'm never going to let go.”

Rune boys' singles champion Roland Garros 2019©Cédric Lecocq / FFT

Dream come true

Over in the boys' draw, Rune recovered from relinquishing two match points to eventually defy the elements and Kodat.

“It’s unbelievable. I was dreaming about this, it’s come true and now my dream is to win here as a senior in a couple of years,” said the ambitious Dane.

“It feels amazing, I’ve been working hard for this for so long. This is a dream come true. It was amazing to be on such a court with a big audience around us, cheering for me. What an experience."

The junior world No.8 commanded play to serve for the match at 5-4 in the second set, but Kodat battled back from the brink and played an exemplary tie-break to force a decider.

“Today was very tricky. I started so well, playing aggressive, coming into the net well. Then at the match points in the second set I went too far back, he played very well and it was my luck the rain came. It let me start over with a new match,” admitted the 16-year-old, who insists his impressive display following the rain delay was due to his continued efforts to build mental fortitude. 

“I was really frustrated, but I managed to settle down and relax. I talked with my coach, my mental coach who is here with me. I came back on the court feeling fresh, more free and it went my way.” 

Rune warmed-up for Roland-Garros by clinching two titles on the clay, which were boosted by his practice sessions with pro players an academy in the south of France.

“Yeah I go there to practice a lot, they always have great players to hit with and they have the best coaches, amazing facilities. It is always a pleasure to play there and compete with these type of players,” continued Rune, who posted videos on his Instagram of hits with Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexei Popyrin. 

“I feel I am close to them when I practice, if I can play my tennis and be brave, getting close to the line. It is only practice but I have managed to beat them. I feel comfortable with them, it has helped me in juniors. Playing against these great players has raised my level a lot.”