American 17-year-old, Bruno Kuzuhara and Croatia’s Petra Marcinko, 16, justified their top seedings in the first Grand Slam junior event of the year in Melbourne at the weekend, with victories over the Czech Republic’s Jakub Mensik and Sofia Costoulas of Belgium, respectively.
After I lost the second set today, I came back from the toilet break, looked up, smiled and said, ‘It is just a privilege to be on Rod Laver Arena and playing the final’ Bruno Kuzuhara
Not that either had an easy time of it. Both were tested to their limits during a rain affected week of drama and high quality tennis.
Kuzuhara’s final, for example, turned into an epic on Rod Laver Arena, the American needing three hours and 43 minutes to overcome Mensik, seeded 4, in a 38-game marathon, 7-6 6-7 7-5. It was only the second set that the Brazilian born American had dropped all week but it didn’t seem to phase him.
“After I lost the second set today, I came back from the toilet break, looked up, smiled and said, ‘It is just a privilege to be on Rod Laver Arena and playing the final’.”
Kuzuhara’s energy sapping victory reversed the scoreline of their only previous encounter which ended in straight sets defeat in the second round of last year’s US Open junior event. The American revealed that he re-watched that match on the eve of his final, something which helped him.
“I did end up watching it last night alongside my coach. We discussed it and this morning reviewed the game-plan. Watching that match definitely helped me.”
Friday’s final, played in the oppressive heat of the Rod Laver arena, concluded with Mensik serving two double faults before collapsing to the ground with blurred vision and cramp, rendering him unable to attend his post-match press conference. He left the court in a wheelchair.
That Kuzuhara outlasted his opponent was credit to his fitness, not least as less than 24 hours earlier, he had teamed up with fellow American Coleman Wong, to win the boys doubles final. The young American, born in Sao Paulo of Japanese parents, thereby became the first boy to win both singles and doubles titles at the Australian Open since Jiri Vesely achieved that double success in 2011.
Kuzuhara had reached the final with a straight sets victory over Adolfo Daniel Vallejo, the first Paraguayan boy ever to contest a Junior Grand Slam singles semi-final and the first Paraguayan player to do since Larissa Schaerer in 1992!
Mensik was also involved in a piece of junior tennis history in his three set semi-final win over Switzerland’s Kilian Feldbausch.
Feldbausch, seeded 11, became the first Swiss boy to compete in a singles semi-final at the Australian Open for 24 years.
The last Swiss to reach that semi-final berth? You guessed it; the great 20-time Grand Slam champion, Roger Federer.
Feldbausch earned his semi-final place by defeating the American Ivan Colak, who himself had overcome 2nd seeded Croatian Mili Poljicak, 17, in a long and tense two hours and 23-minutes quarter-final, 2-6 7-6 6-4.
The girls’ event was equally competitive and had its own history making moments. Petra Marcinko, who ended 2021 as the World’s No 1 ranked player, continued her good form into the new year with victory over Belgium’s Sofia Costoulas, herself on an impressive 11 match winning streak until the final.
“This is a moment and a memory that will last forever,” Marcinko said after her 7-5 6-1 victory. “My first Grand Slam title and I hope not the only one, but this is going to be one of the best memories I will have for sure. It was my goal to win a Junior Grand Slam, but it has been far from reality for a long time. It means a lot to me and to my coaches, my family and my dad as they gave a lot for my tennis.”
Marcinko follows in a long and impressive line-up of Croatian players to win the Australian junior crown, including Mirjana Lucic, Jelena Kostanic and Ana Konjuh.
Despite her youthful age, Marcinko has already experienced life on the pro tour, reaching quarter and semi-finals berths at ITF World Tennis Tour events last season.
“I am really excited about the future,” added Marcinko. “I am feeling good and feeling confident. I am excited to see how it is going to be at pro level, which I am going to play this year. I want to see how I do at stronger ITF tournaments and maybe some WTA events. I am really excited.”
Marcinko ended American interest in her semi, defeating Liv Hovde 6-4 4-6 6-4 in a rain-affected clash which had to be concluded on Margaret Court Arena.
16 year old Costoulas meanwhile, ended any hopes of a first Australian junior girl’s champion on home soil since Siobhan Drake-Brockman in 1995 when she overpowered Adelaide 17 year old Charlotte Kempenaers-Pocz for the loss of just five games in their semi-final.
Despite tasting defeat in the final, however, she wasn’t regretful.
“I had a great time here, played very good matches and had the chance to play on Margaret Court Arena and Rod Laver Arena, so what more can you ask for? I am very happy with my week. I’m disappointed for today but Petra played a very good match.”
In the girls’ doubles, it was Russia’s Diana Shnaider, earning her second Grand Slam doubles success of her fledgling career following last summer’s victory at Wimbledon, who took the silverware in partnership with Clervie Ngounoue of the United States.
In earlier rounds, there was history made by three individuals – Iran’s Meshkatolzahra Safi, Angella Okutoyi of Kenya and Namibia’s Connor Henry Van Schalkwyk.
By defeating Australian qualifier Anja Nayar 6-4 6-3, Safi became the first Iranian player – boy or girl – to record a Junior Grand Slam match-win.
Okutoyi, ranked 62 in the world rankings and making her junior Grand Slam debut, reached the second round with victory over Italian qualifier Federica Urgesi 6-4 6-7 6-3.
Unlike Safi and Okutoyi, 17-year-old Van Schalkwyk failed to reach the second round in the boys event, losing in straight-sets to Japan’s Lennon Roark Jones. But he became the first Namibian junior to compete at a Junior Grand Slam since Suzelle Davin competed at the 2006 Wimbledon junior championships, something he can be proud of and build upon.
Tennis talent is springing up in the most unlikely places, thanks in part to the ITF’s international junior programmes around the world. Safi, Okutoyi and Van Schalkwyk are evidence that countries without an established tennis history can tap into potential if the opportunity arises. Tennis Threads magazine wishes them well.