Leylah Fernandez says Serena Williams gave her a “path to follow” as she added to the tributes pouring in for the retiring American legend.
In a first-person essay for Vogue on Tuesday, Williams announced her decision to “evolve away” from the sport that she has played professionally and with such distinction since 1995, racking up an Open-era record 23 major titles.
At 19, and like fellow players Emma Raducanu and Coco Gauff – who also hailed Williams’ influence on their careers – Fernandez is one of the younger generation who grew up watching Williams dominate women’s tennis.
And last year’s US Open runner-up revealed her hopes that Williams remains involved in the sport in some capacity, given the 40-year-old’s continuing ability to act as a role model for those on the tour.
“It’s very sad news,” Fernandez said ahead of her second-round match against Beatriz Haddad Maia at the Canadian Open.
“She’s an icon, she’s a legend. The sport needs her. She’s done incredible things for not only tennis but also for women.
“She gave us a path to follow. I know that she’s making a decision for herself and we’ve just got to trust that she’s going to do the right things.
“I’m sure that hopefully maybe she can come back to the sport and hopefully help us help the younger generations.
“I’m sure she’s just going to be a great, great role model, even away from tennis.”
Bianca Andreescu delivered one of the biggest shocks in tennis history when beating Williams as a 19-year-old to win the 2019 US Open, which was to prove – barring a dream run at the upcoming US Open – Williams’ last Slam final.
And the Canadian admitted she would savour that experience as she digested the seismic news.
“I feel honoured to have gotten that opportunity to play her and even connect with her in some way,” Andreescu said.
“I was absolutely shocked. I woke up and I’m like ‘What?’. Because you know that at one point she’s going to retire. But when she actually is going to announce it, it’s just shocking. Because you think these kind of players will play forever.
“But she’s done so much for the sport, for women’s tennis. First of all she’s accomplished a lot. So that’s an inspiration for so many.
“She’s not afraid to be herself and to show all her emotions on the court, off the court, what she stands for.
“I think right now she said she’s focusing on a new chapter in her life. So I’m happy for her.
“I’m just so shocked that she’s retiring. I’m going to miss watching her play. I know she’s doing a lot of things off the court as well to help inspire. It’s incredible.
“I hope that I can achieve maybe half of what she achieved and continue on her legacy in some way.”