Leylah Fernandez gears up for Atlanta Open exhibition match

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

The annual Atlanta Open will begin in less than a month and will feature top talents from around the world, such as two-time Wimbledon champion Andy Murray, 2014 U.S. Open runner-up Kei Nishikori, Georgia Tech tennis star Andres Martin and six-time Atlanta Open winner John Isner, who were unveiled Tuesday as some of the members of the 2022 field.

Introducing the event will be the Sunday Showdown exhibition match July 24 that continues the Atlanta Open’s tradition as the only men’s tennis tournament in the world to kick off with a women’s exhibition match.

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This year’s clash will be between two of the bigger and younger names in the tennis world. Coco Gauff, a former Atlanta resident and a two-time WTA singles title holder, will face Canadian left-hander Leylah Fernandez for their first head-to-head at the professional level.

Event organizers also announced Tuesday that this year’s event will include a second women’s exhibition, when Gauff faces Sofia Kenin on July 25.

The Atlanta Open takes place July 23-31 at Atlantic Station.

While Fernandez and Gauff have not faced off at the professional level, the two were doubles partners in the 2021 BNP Paribas Open, where they made it to the quarterfinals before losing to partners Hsieh Su-Wei and Elise Mertens. Now facing each other for the first time and in front of Gauff’s home crowd, Fernandez is prepared to meet her on the court again.

“It’s going to be a fun match,” Fernandez said. “We’re both fierce competitors, and we both want to win. But we also understand it’s an exhibition match. And I think we’re just going to try and put on a good show for the fans.”

Fernandez had a statement year in 2021. She finished last year’s U.S. Open as the runner-up after defeating Naomi Osaka in the third round, and she reached the second round of the Tokyo Olympics. Fernandez also was chosen the Canadian Female Athlete of the Year.

Although Fernandez left the French Open this year with a fractured foot sustained in the quarterfinals, she is ready to return to the court after spending the past few weeks rehabilitating her injury.

“I think it’s going to be a great first match back,” Fernandez said. “I haven’t been competing for the past few weeks, and I think being in Atlanta, where tennis is huge here, is going to be a great introduction back to competition.”

As her first competition in the Peach State draws closer, the Montreal native has been taking in and learning about Atlanta’s tennis history.

“I love visiting a new city that I don’t know about or that I haven’t visited,” Fernandez said. “I recently just found out that Atlanta is the No. 1 city in the world for (recreational) tennis. I think that’s awesome, and that there’s a tournament here is a step forward for everyone. I’m just very happy to be part of that history and the tournament.”

Having to miss the 2022 Wimbledon because of her injury, Fernandez plans to use this exhibition match to strengthen her game and prepare for the coming months of play. Fernandez recently announced that she will return to competition soon, starting with the Citi Open in Washington that begins July 30.

Fernandez plans to use the next month to continue preparing for the challenge in front of her as she looks to return to the court in front of a sold-out Atlanta crowd.

“I think the best thing that I can do is just stay positive,” Fernandez said. “Especially in hard times. I know I’m not going to be 100%, but if I can be as close to it for the exhibition, it’s going to be a wonderful time.”