PARIS — Leylah Fernandez's dream of a Grand Slam title is now within reach.
Fernandez and American partner Taylor Townsend blew away the second-seeded Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula, 6-0, 6-4 in the French Open women’s doubles semifinals on Friday. They next face the unseeded duo of Hsieh Su-Wei of Taiwan and Wang Xinyu of China in Sunday's final.
The women’s doubles title would be the first Grand Slam victory of any kind for Fernandez of Laval, Que., who won the girls’ junior singles championship at Roland Garros in 2019.
“It’s a dream, no matter if it’s in singles, doubles or mixed doubles," Fernandez said. "Everyone here, all the players taking part in the tournament have a dream — to play and win a Grand Slam, to bring the trophy home.
"So to have the opportunity to play Sunday on (Court Philippe) Chatrier is exciting, and I can’t wait to play and share the court with Taylor once again.”
Townsend was equally excited.
“I'm just honestly so proud of how we were able to play and perform," she said. "I told Leylah after the match that this is what we've been building towards over the past couple of months … just figuring each other out to now understanding each other so well and being able to play such great, consistent tennis against the (No. 2) seeds.
“And I'm really proud of how we were able to kind of put our last result behind us. We lost to Jess and Coco in the finals in Miami and we were able to kind of learn from it, detach from the result, and then just understand and take what we learned in that match and apply it into this one.”
The duo reached the Miami Open final in just their second tournament together in April. Fernandez has now turned the tears of a second-round defeat in women’s singles into cheers as she and Townsend, 27, look to win the Simonne-Mathieu Cup.
Fernandez’s father and coach, Jorge, and younger sister, Bianca, arrived in Paris from Portugal where Bianca was playing a lower-level Challenger event.
“I hadn’t seen them for quite a while, so it did me a lot of good to have my family here with me,” she said.
Their opponents in Sunday’s final are playing just their second tournament together.
Hsieh, at 37 and back from an 18-month sabbatical, has 30 career doubles titles including the 2014 French Open. Wang, 21, isn’t even ranked in the top 100 in doubles and has two minor titles to her credit.
Fernandez believes they can be victorious.
“We’re a very good team, and we’re improving with every tournament — our results show it. We keep reducing the errors, and we communicate a lot,” Fernandez said. “We have a good chance to win but it’ll be a tough match, because our opponents also made the final, so they’re playing well.”
To say Townsend and Fernandez were dominant against one of the best women’s doubles teams in the world would be an understatement.
Townsend, in particular, was seemingly everywhere during the 24-minute first set. And Fernandez more than held her own.
Townsend also hit the fastest serve of her career, clocked at 201 km/hour.
Gauff and Pegula, who reached the final a year ago, had a lot on the line. Had they won the title, Pegula would become the No. 1 doubles player in the world for the first time.
Instead, it is their countrywoman Townsend who will be ranked in the top five in doubles for the first time, by virtue of reaching the final.
Fernandez’s singles ranking will drop significantly with the updated list on Monday, from No. 49 to about No. 94. She reached the singles quarterfinals in Paris a year ago and on the 52-week rolling cycle that makes up the rankings, she failed to defend those ranking points by losing in the second round.
Fernandez is already near the top 20 in doubles with the effort in Paris. If she and Townsend take the title, Fernandez would stand at No. 12.
And in the all-important doubles race to the year-end finals in Shenzhen, China, Townsend and Fernandez would rocket from No. 9 to No. 2, just five tournaments into their partnership.
The French Open champions will split nearly $850,000 CAD.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 9, 2023.
Stephanie Myles, The Canadian Press