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September 10, 2021

Jorge Fernandez

New York, New York, USA

Press Conference

THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.

Q. You're not coming, right? I'm wondering, Leylah made a little joke that it's working out well with you there. Are you superstitious about coming? Or are you coming tomorrow?

JORGE FERNANDEZ: No, I am not going to be there tomorrow. Yes, I'm extremely superstitious. My daughter is as well.

Look, I've been using the same shampoo on game day, kind of using the same jeans on game day, I think the same socks and underwear. It's taken to a completely different level.

It's always been that way. It's nothing new. You do your shoelaces a certain way, you do this a certain way. Leylah and I have always kind of, when we figured out what's working, we don't mess with it. That's to a fault, right? Because sometimes you end up messing about with things that you shouldn't mess about with.

It's working, so let's not ruin it. The last time I showed up to a finals it was Acapulco when she made it to the finals and she lost it. I was hating myself for a good two months afterwards. I didn't really want to talk about it. I didn't want to talk to anybody.

They say, C'mon, it's just a game, she made it to the finals, right? C'mon. But inside me it's like, No, I shouldn't have shown up, I shouldn't have been there.

It's really about superstition. She knows that I'm supporting her from afar. I've mentioned in the past I'm in her heart and she's in mine. When all of this is done, everybody who's seen it from the stadium, fantastic. But I'm going to look at her right across the kitchen table when we're going to have dinner and we're going to be okay.

Q. In terms of coaching her long distance, when is the last moment you talk to her and what do you tell her? Out of the locker room or what?

JORGE FERNANDEZ: Yeah, I usually separate -- I'll talk to her for her tennis match the night before. So tonight we'll have a meeting. We'll go over some things. That's the work that we're doing right now.

Then tomorrow morning we just talk about what her day's going to look like, just a quick reminder of what she needs to be training, warming up for that matter, warming up.

Then right before her match we have a last conversation before she goes on. That's kind of like the father/daughter talk. It's more based on sentiments and emotions. That's where I kind of -- it's almost like a virtual hug and a kiss, Good luck, you know what to do. It's more of a motivating conversation. It's really based on what I say is what I'm feeling in the moment, like what I'm feeling from her, right? If I'm feeling that she's nervous, we talk a little bit about that. If I'm feeling that she's scared, we talk about that.

I know we say she's just unbelievable with her mindset right now. She shows so much fight. But she is human, and she does feel those emotions. That's how I usually break it down.

Q. We've all been so impressed with what she's been able to do on the court as far as her game and her fight. Could you just talk about her poise as a 19-year-old in these big moments on these big stages. How is she able to react the way she has?

JORGE FERNANDEZ: Yeah, I mean, I've always described Leylah as having an extremely mature game. I mean, it's something that you expect out of a 28-year-old, not out of a 16-year-old, 15-year-old.

I watched her win the U16 Nationals when she was 12. She was obviously playing with players that were much bigger, much more experienced, much stronger than she was. I remember just watching her coming to the net, volleying, right? She would just turn around and little fist pump, just walk away like as if it's something completely normal, like she's been doing it for many, many years.

I think that poise has come from her watching a lot of tennis, watching some of the big names, the YouTube clips, watching the matches. She's probably one of the only players of that age group that I know, maybe there's more, I don't want to make a mistake, from what I know that actually watches a match from beginning to end, right?

She's constantly analyzing what happened at this time, what happened when this happened. She's a great student of the game. I think that brings that poise that we see in her, able to do what she's doing because she's watched it so much. Although she hasn't lived it, she has watched it. She's kind of acting with the same poise that past champions have done, like Henin, like Graf, right? Like Borg, right? Even McEnroe, right? Watch that lefty serve. After he's done being a little bit rambunctious, there's a moment of clarity that happens.

I think she's just learned from past champions on how they recuperate and keep their poise. That's what we're seeing, even though she doesn't have her own personal experience.

Q. We've seen how she reacts in good times. How do you prepare for obviously the tough times that come when you're on a tour, the losses?

JORGE FERNANDEZ: When the losses accumulate, is that what you mean?

Look, I mean, there is no magical formula. I've always been a very, very demanding and tough coach, right? Whenever we lose, we get back to work really hard. That's just kind of, like, a traditional thing, old-school thing. Like I get called an old-school coach a lot. I believe in the grind. I believe in the hard work. I believe in the suffering. If we do that enough, then we get really, really strong. That's what we do every Monday, right?

Monday is the worst training day for us. It's never a vacation, always the worst training day for us. I always tell her it's her first round. It's her most important training.

I think just over the years, having that same attitude and that same demanding, critical eye has made her into a more resilient player. But, of course, what keeps us together is the fact that I've always told her, like I want somebody else to coach you. She's the one who always says, No, you're the only one, come back, all of this.

Outside of the tennis court, we just try to have fun. We try to just be normal. I think that's what kind of balances the high intensity of training to having a joyful type of second part which is outside of the court.

You can't be always tough everywhere. Basically you burn your athlete. So I think Leylah has been able to accept that and knew that she had to be tough. I think, again, with the videos, it kind of resonates with her. That's basically what we kind of have done all the time.

I hope I explained myself.

Q. I'm not sure if you've been able to see much of this, but Leylah is getting encouraging messages from the Philippines, Ecuador. What kind of pride do you feel in that? A match like tomorrow where Emma also has family from Asia as well, what do you think this match can do to help grow the game around the world?

JORGE FERNANDEZ: Yeah, I mean, to answer your first question, absolutely I did notice. Yesterday I sent a message to a Filipino association in Canada. I personally thanked them for the support. They were a little bit shocked that I actually took the time to call them and thank them.

I think any support that is grassroots, whether it's from a certain culture or not, it's really not important. Obviously answering this question particularly, I think it's just fantastic. It's only great for the WTA. It's only great for the game.

I think we just need that in order for the game to become really, really, really a worldwide powerhouse, right? There's a lot of opportunities to grow the game. I always feel that way.

Of course, knowing soccer, I've seen the game grow from when I was a long time ago playing to now. Now it's a different monster altogether, right? I think it's only a good thing. I truly appreciate the Filipino community backing up Leylah. She's got Filipino blood in her. It's so beautiful.

I'm glad that they've embraced her. I hope that relationship can only grow between her and her community.

So to answer the second question, which is Emma and Leylah bringing in that Asian flair, again, we have to look at the big picture here, right? We have to look at something as simple as changing of the guard, right? Who's going to be the next generation that's going to come in? What type of play are they going to bring? I see they're both bringing a type of game that is not common right now on the circuit. It's not as common as we think it is.

I see that they bring a flair that is very unique for them. I'm glad that they're touching the Asian community. I think that's a huge opportunity in the women's game just to be able to expand and have a new style. Like tomorrow's matchup is 2002, that's their year. You might as well call it the 2002 US Open final. It's silly.

I think it's just positive for the game. Obviously I want Leylah to win. That goes without saying. But I just think that the matchup and what we're seeing, those two ladies are touching a lot of young girls. They're touching a lot of young people. I'm getting messages about, you know, Please pass this to Leylah, little girls saying, You're making us believe. This can only be good for the tennis game and the WTA altogether.

Q. Obviously with what Leylah has done, with the wins she's had over the type of caliber opponents she's had, it's a tricky matchup on Saturday regardless of everything. It's one thing for a lower-ranked player to get up and play a big name, and this is a different puzzle for her. As the coach, what do you tell her to prepare her for this? Has she been in situations like this before where you risk that trap match after getting the big win?

JORGE FERNANDEZ: That's an excellent question.

Yeah, absolutely. I'm with you a hundred percent. Maybe we can switch places (laughter).

Q. You seem to be fully successful in your position. You're fine.

JORGE FERNANDEZ: You tell me what I should do (smiling).

That's exactly it. The difficulty is that. How do you adjust from playing all these higher-ranked and bigger names that you've seen on TV? It's very easy to get motivated for that, right? You don't really have to make a huge presentation.

I think that tomorrow we really have to focus from the motivation side of things. We really have to focus on what the event is, right? It is a finals. Let's just focus on what we need to do. The motivating factor, I know this might sound silly, but it's a finals, all right? Let's leave it all on the table. Let's sweat it all out. Let's make sure that no matter how it finishes, there are no regrets because we won't get another crack at this again, if we're fantastic, for another year. You know how difficult it is to make a finals in a Grand Slam two years in a row, the same one. It's a very difficult thing.

I think the message really will be to focus on the fact that it's a finals, focus on herself. Focus on the match plan. I've yet to finalize any little details to the match plan. But so far she's been following the match plan very well. In key moments she's been executing very well.

That's what the focus is going to be as opposed to it's a junior player, she's higher ranked. That just creates more pressure, right? That just creates an expectation of, well, honest, if she was 150... No, unfortunately for me that's a very junior mentality. Emma made the finals because she earned her right to be in the finals. Nobody gave it to her, right? What she did was absolutely fantastic, as well. I mean, c'mon, Sakkari, this is not just a regular player.

Of course, they make mistakes, they're human. Nonetheless, she earned her right to be there. That's the most important thing.

If you focus on the fact that it's a finals, you're playing another warrior in front of you, I don't think the age, who it is or the ranking should even matter.

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