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Leylah faces uphill climb



Filipino-Canadian netter Leylah Fernandez drew a first-round bye in her BNP Paribas Open debut but could face a tough rival next in former world No. 11 Alize Cornet of France, who is tipped to get past a qualifier in the opener in Indian Wells, California.

But whether Fernandez could match her remarkable US Open runner-up performance that saw her upend a slew of seeded players with her guts and aggressive brand of play, remains to be seen.

Experts say her style is ideal in quick desert conditions and on a hard surface as in the US Open in Flushing Meadows where Fernandez — who has risen to world No. 28 from No. 73 — dished out one big game after the other to emerge the new darling of the sport.

She, however, lost steam in the finals and bowed to Britain’s Emma Raducanu in a duel of teenagers.

If ever she hurdles Cornet or the qualifier and progresses, the 23rd-ranked Fernandez is lined up for a possible clash with a slew of aces in the lower half of the draw, including No. 9 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia in the third round, No. 13 Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan or No. 24 Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia in the next phase, and No. 25 Veronika Kudermetova, also of Russia, or second seed GA Swiatek of Poland.

The 17th seed Raducanu, meanwhile, also gained an outright spot in the second round and will face the winner in the Maria Serrano of Colombia-Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus clash.

Top seed Czech Karolina Pliskova, Swiatek, No. 3, Barbora Krejcikova, also of the Czech Republic, No. 4 Svitolina, fifth-ranked Garbine Muguruza of Spain, and No. 6 Greek Maria Sakkari banner the stellar field that will miss the likes of world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty and No. 2 Sabalenka, who have been tested positive for Covid-19.

Osaka and Serena Williams also begged off from participating.

Meanwhile, Fernandez’s US Open finish also netted her a spot in the Canadian team vying in the finals of the Billie Jean King Cup women’s international tennis tournament slated from 1 to 6 November in Prague.

The 19-year-old rising star, will be joined by Ottawa’s Gabriela Dabrowski, Vancouver’s Rebecca Marino and fellow Montreal native Francoise Abanda.