Tennis Canada announced Tuesday the list of players who will take part in the fourteenth edition of the Saguenay National Bank Challenger. Sanctioned by the International Tennis Federation (ITF), the tournament offers $60,000 USD in prize money and will be held from October 21 to 27 at the Saguenay Indoor Tennis Club.
Leading the Canadian contingent will be 17-year-old Leylah Annie Fernandez (Laval, QC), who will be competing in Saguenay for only the second time in her young career. After a great start to the year, which saw her capture the title at the junior French Open and climb to the no. 2 ranking at the junior level, Fernandez has also been making her at the professional level. She won her first pro ITF tournament this summer at the Gatineau National Bank Challenger, in singles and doubles. She followed up her performance with a run to the finals one week later in Granby. In her only other appearance in Saguenay in 2017, Fernandez reached the quarter-finals at the mere age of fifteen.
She will be joined in the main draw by compatriots Françoise Abanda (Montreal, QC), Carol Zhao (Richmond Hill, ON) and Mélodie Collard (Gatineau, QC) who have received Wild Cards into the main draw. Despite spending a few months on the sidelines dealing with injuries, Abanda has gotten some good results in 2019. A player who enjoys competing in front of a home crowd, she reached the semi-finals at both the Gatineau and Granby Challengers this summer. She was also a key member of the Canadian Fed Cup team who got an important win against the Netherlands this past February. As for Zhao, she has also had to deal with a number of injury problems throughout the last few months. She came back to compete this past June. In only her second tournament of the year, she reached the quarter-finals at an ITF event in China. Zhao will be competing in Saguenay for a sixth time, having notably won the doubles title with compatriot Bianca Andreescu back in 2017. For her part, Collard will be competing in only her fifth professional tournament, having gotten some good results on the junior circuit this year. She reached the doubles semi-finals at the junior US Open and has won four titles on the ITF junior circuit, two in singles and two in doubles.
The other Wild Card as well as the ones for the qualifying draw will be announced at a later date.
“Our tournament always welcomes some of the best players from across the globe, whether they are just starting out in their professional careers or are nearing the end. Many of them continue to come back year after year, which is a testament to the hard work and dedication that is put into this event,” stated Tournament Director Francis Milloy. “There is strong pool of talent again this year and we are looking forward to another great week of high quality tennis.”
On the international front, the tournament’s first seed, Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium, is currently ranked no. 101 in singles and no. 23 in doubles. She reached a career-high ranking of no. 13 in 2013 after reaching the Wimbledon final. This would be her first time playing in Saguenay. The tournament’s second seed, Ysaline Bonaventure of Belgium, will be competing for a third time, having reached the singles semi-finals in 2014 and being crowned doubles champion that same year. The top three will be rounded out by another Belgian player, Greet Minnen. The 22-year-old has won eight titles on the ITF tour, including one earlier this year. Fans in Saguenay will also recognize the familiar faces of Bibiane Schoofs of the Netherlands and Jessika Ponchet of France.
The Saguenay National Bank Challenger is the final Challenger tournament held in Quebec in 2019. The tournament was preceded by the National Bank Challenger tournaments in Drummondville, Gatineau and Granby earlier this year.
*Photo: Sarah-Jäde Champagne