Five young South Florida women are shaking up sports locally and nationally—even toppling the giants in their fields.
2019 was the year of the woman.
With the U.S. women’s national soccer team winning its fourth World Cup and vehemently fighting for equal pay, young girls everywhere are looking up to their (s)heroes. Some may recognize South Florida as a football hub, but Palm Beach County is home to women athletes who are paving the way for young players across the world. Each day this week, Boca mag is profiling one of those athletes who calls South Florida home—and this will not be the last time you see their names on big screens.
Leylah Annie Fernandez
Leylah Annie Fernandez is like many teens: She loves music (especially Journey and Bon Jovi), hangs out with her younger sister and helps around the apartment with chores.
But unlike most teens, this summer the Boynton Beach resident was ranked the No. 2 junior tennis player in the world, a stepping stone toward her goal to go pro.
“I want to play against everybody,” Fernandez says, when asked who she wants to compete against. “Learn from the matches, win or lose, and take the experience and use it to my advantage and just play against them.”
The 16-year-old played multiple sports while growing up, but excelled at tennis. While she started 2019 with a loss in the Australian Open junior finals, she took a break from junior competition and played professional tournaments to prepare for the French Open Junior Championships.
There, she won the J1 Charleroi-Marcinelle tournament and the French Open junior singles title—becoming the first Canadian to do so. But she didn’t stop there. In July, Fernandez won her first professional title at the W25 Gatineau Tournament in Gatineau, Québec. She won both the junior and singles titles.
“I know it’s very hard to win a tournament,” Fernandez says. “And let alone to just win an ITF $25,000 [event] is so much harder, because there are a lot of older and experienced players.”
Along with her athletic capabilities on the court, she credits her “mental fortitude” to her success, which included besting competitors 10 or more years her senior. “I just accept fear, because there is always going to be some fear that is going to happen,” Fernandez says. “Just being able to accept the fear that’s going to happen and surpass it, I just know deep down that everything will be all right.”
After winning the French Open Junior Championships, Fernandez and her coaches decided that she would move away from junior tournaments and build her professional career. Although she does not know what the future holds, she trusts her coaches and family to help her succeed.
“They know how hard the road will be, and they’re just there to help you achieve your dreams,” Fernandez says. “Listen to them, have confidence in them and just trust in them.”