(Reuters) - Brazil's Beatriz Haddad Maia said she was hoping to inspire the soccer-mad country's youth into taking up tennis after breaking into the top 20 of the women's world rankings.
Haddad Maia's dream run in the Canadian Open came to an end on Sunday as she was beaten 6-3 2-6 6-3 by Simona Halep in the final, but her performances in Toronto have propelled her up the rankings into 16th place.
"We are not a lot of players from (South America) because, you know, it is less opportunities, it is less tournaments," Haddad Maia, who this week became the first Brazilian to reach the quarter-finals of a WTA 1000 event, told reporters.
"The tennis, the mentality and the culture are different there. It's not easy being a Brazilian to play here and to build our tennis level around the tour.
"Now I hope I can help children to make their dreams come true, to believe in themselves. Because if I'm now here top 20, they can be here as well."
Brazil have had successful tennis players in the past, with Maria Bueno having won multiple Grand Slam women's titles prior to the Open era's beginning in 1968, while Gustavo Kuerten won the men's French Open on three occasions, the last one in 2001.
Many spectators at Sunday's final were wearing Brazil's iconic canary yellow soccer jersey, and Haddad Maia's success has also caught the attention of Brazilian soccer hero Pele, who wrote her a message of support on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/p/ChPuztKOHmg ahead of the match.
Haddad Maia said she was feeling the love from her nation and praised supporters for creating an atmosphere at the final that was similar to that of a soccer match.
"I think Brazilians are not used to screaming for tennis. Sometimes they scream a little bit more," Haddad Maia said. "They think they are in a soccer game. But, yeah, it's funny, because everybody wants to give me the energy.
"And I was happy to hear a lot of Bia's, come on Bia, vamos Bia, keep fighting. It's special to feel that everybody in Brazil is watching on TV. And it's like following tennis because of me. I feel very proud and thankful because of that."
(Reporting by Aadi Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)