When Leylah Fernandez’s name was drawn in the same bracket as world number one Iga Swiatek for the upcoming National Bank Open, a mischievous smile crossed the top-ranked Canadian’s face.
“Hi,” Fernandez said Friday, making the crowd gathered on the CN Tower observation deck laugh for the WTA event’s draw ceremony.
The National Bank Open women’s team will take place at Sobeys Stadium in Toronto as of Saturday’s qualifying round.
Fernandez will face a qualifier in the first round of the tournament on Monday, while Swiatek has a bye thanks to his high ranking. Fernandez, 13th seed, has not played since injuring his right foot in the French Open quarter-final.
The Canadian said she finally got the official green light to play again from her doctor the day before the draw ceremony after weeks of training.
“The timing is impeccable,” Fernandez said. “We have been working to get back into shape as quickly as possible.
“But we still needed the opinion of this doctor saying I’m ready to go.”
Although Fernandez was happy to be in the same bracket as Swiatek, the Polish player shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Swiatek set a new record for the longest winning streak in the 21st century, winning 37 games in a row earlier this year. She won the French Open and four WTA 1000 titles during that time.
WATCH | Swiatek beats Fernandez at the Adelaide International in January:
This winning streak catapulted Swiatek to the top of the WTA rankings. She noted that she has come a long way since qualifying for the 2019 edition of the Canadian event when it was still called the Rogers Cup.
“Adjusting to this position was kind of weird because when I was younger I didn’t really believe it was going to happen,” said Swiatek, who had to leave the draw ceremony early to go practice. “And it happened very quickly.”
Fernandez will be joined by at least four other Canadians at the tournament.
More Canadians are registered for this weekend’s qualifying tournament and could earn a spot in one of the four spots in the first round of the main event.
“Every year you see a new player, one more young player who is going to surprise people,” Fernandez said of the depth of the qualifying rounds. “You always hope that this player will do something big next year or the year after.”
World No. 2 Anett Kontaveit, World No. 3 Maria Sakkari and 2021 Indian Wells champion Paula Badosa, Madrid Open champion Ons Jabeur complete the tournament’s top five seeds.
Belarus’ Aryna Sabalenka, American Jessica Pegula and Spain’s Garbine Muguruza also earned first-round byes as the sixth through eighth seeds, respectively.
Venus Williams, her 42-year-old sister, will face Switzerland’s Jil Teichmann in the first round. The elder Williams has won seven Grand Slam titles.
“There are so many great champions in the draw, it’s going to be an exciting week,” Fernandez said.