As Leylah Fernandez enjoyed her stunning run to last year’s US Open final as an unseeded player, among those cheering her on was Australian Maddison Inglis.
Inglis knew Fernandez because she is a close friend of Fernandez’s doubles partner, New Zealander Erin Routliffe, and — as the Canadian proceeded to defy expectations by reaching the tournament decider — the Australian was one of her biggest fans.
Fast forward to this week’s Australian Open and Fernandez could no longer count on Inglis’s support, but not because they had a falling out.
Instead, they were facing each other on opposite sides of the net in an Australian Open first-round encounter at Melbourne Park.
In what was one of the biggest upsets of the tournament so far, the 133rd-ranked Inglis defeated the 23rd-seeded Fernandez in straight sets, 6-4, 6-2.
“I actually watched a lot of Leylah at the US Open because she was playing with my really good friend Erin in the doubles,” Inglis said at her post-match media conference at Melbourne Park.
“We were there supporting, watching her singles matches, then I would go watch her doubles matches. She’s such a lovely girl.”
Inglis — a wildcard at Melbourne Park — was a gracious winner on Tuesday, admitting she felt Fernandez was not at peak fitness for the season-opening major.
But the significance of the 24-year-old’s achievement cannot be understated, given it was only her fifth major and she had never before progressed past the first round.
Among those appearances were two previous tilts at the Australian Open main draw, with the first back as 2016.
“This is my first main-draw win. I had thought of that moment for a long time,” said Inglis, who hails from Perth.
“It was just pure happiness. I was so happy. I saw the ball go out [on match point] and I looked at my box. It was an amazing moment.
While disappointed to have never advanced from the opening round of the major until Tuesday, Inglis realised this had helped her deal with the daunting prospect of facing a player of Fernandez’s calibre.
“I’ve had a fair few experiences now at this level,” she said.
“Today was the most comfortable I’d ever felt out there, which probably has a lot to do with how I played.”
Inglis’s financial boost
The win will not only give Inglis a dose of confidence, but will help ease the financial pressure she and so many players ranked outside the top 100 face on the WTA and ATP tours.
She will at least earn $154,000 by reaching the second round, while another win will net her a pay packet of $221,000.
Considering Inglis — whose highest ranking is 112 — had earned $530,716 during her career prior to this week, the financial boost is welcome relief.
“[The prize money] is a lot of help,” she said.
“Now that I have turned 24, I’m still getting help from [Tennis Australia]. Once you turn 24, you have to find external help and coaches.
“It’s going to be a massive help for me this year, financially, which is great. Then I cannot focus and stress too much about that and just focus on things on court. It’s a huge help.”
Fernandez was full of praise for Inglis, noting her tenacity as one of her shining qualities as a player.
“I know Maddie is a very, very good player,” Fernandez said.
“Unfortunately, I just did not play well. She played a good match today, and that’s it.”
Inglis will next play American qualifier Hailey Baptiste in the second round on Thursday.