Before Jorge Fernandez’s daughter Leylah won an electrifying match to earn a spot in the finals at the U.S. Open, an interviewer from TSN asked him what it meant to the family to represent Canada. Overcome with emotion, he took a moment to compose himself. These days, he said, “there’s a lot of talk in the news about, you know, immigrant people.” Well, “we’re an immigrant family and we had nothing. … Canada opened up its doors.”
If it hadn’t, he said, he would not have had the opportunities he did and would not have been able to pass those gifts on to his remarkable daughter. “So … it means a lot.”
The success of Ms. Fernandez and the other brilliant young Canadian players in New York has been stirring in many ways.
It’s been stirring to watch these superb athletes put their hard-earned skills on display in such a famous arena. Denis Shapovalov leaping to whip a backhand cross court. Félix Auger-Aliassime flicking a perfect drop shot just over the net. Bianca Andreescu lunging to trade volleys with an opponent. Ms. Fernandez sinking to a crouch to swing at a shot like a big-league ball player smacking a home run.
It’s been stirring to see them show such character and pluck under extreme pressure. Mr. Auger-Aliassime as cool as ice as he fights off one competitor after another. Ms. Andreescu pushing through pain to finish a marathon match that went on till the small hours of the morning. Ms. Fernandez, just turned 19 years of age, closing her mind to doubt as she faces down some of the world’s top women players. Her father always told her: Believe in yourself, bet on yourself, and good things will happen. Have they ever.
But perhaps most stirring of all is to witness the dreams of immigrant parents such as Mr. Fernandez come true. His family came to Canada from Ecuador when he was a boy, settling in Montreal. Ms. Fernandez’s mother, Irene, who is from Toronto, is the daughter of Filipino parents. The tennis player speaks English, French and Spanish.
Ms. Andreescu, 21, born in Mississauga, on Toronto’s flank, is the daughter of Romanian immigrants. Mr. Shapovalov, 22, was born in Tel Aviv, the son of parents who left the Soviet Union for Israel then moved to Canada when he was an infant. Mr. Auger-Aliassime, 21, is the son of Sam Aliassime, a tennis instructor from Togo. His French-Canadian mother, Marie, is a teacher. The Montrealer ended his run for a spot at the U.S. Open final on Friday, losing in straight sets to second-seeded Daniil Medvedev of Russia.
Vasek Pospisil, 31, an early contender in New York this year, is the son of a hard-working couple from the Czech Republic who made their home in British Columbia. Canadian veteran, Milos Raonic, 30, absent from the Open with an injury, has parents who moved to the immigrant magnet of Brampton, Ont., from the former Yugoslavia. All of them came with the aspiration held by generations of new Canadians: to build a better life for their children.
Now, they are seeing the results of their resolve. Politicians like to boast about Canada’s openness and diversity. Its tennis stars show it in action. They are the Canadian ideal made flesh. More than any bland statement on the virtues of immigration and the merits of multiculturalism, they demonstrate how newcomers enrich and enliven the nation.
Mr. Fernandez is grateful to Canada for opening its doors, but look what Canada got in return. His daughter is the sort of kid who makes the country’s future seem to glow with promise: dedicated to her craft, sure of her potential, fairly bursting with confidence and hope. What a gift that she could come along just now, when the air is full of gloom and discord.
She will have none of that. When she got behind during early going of Thursday’s semi-final, she fired three aces, hammering serves past her bigger, more seasoned rival. Meeting power with grit and guile, she fought every point as if it were the last. When it was all over, she collapsed to the ground, then leapt up with the most radiant smile on her face, raising her fist in the air in her trademark victory salute.
How lucky we are to have her represent us.
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