Junior Wimbledon | Matusevich takes out top seed for quarter-final place
Firstly, this column apologises for the inadvertent omission of Britain’s Anton Matusevich from yesterday’s copy, a faux pas compounded by his magnificent win over top-seeded Holger Rune out on No 14 court on Wednesday.
Rune is the World No 1 and the French Open junior champion, so Matusevich’s compelling 6-4 7-5 win over the Dane that puts him in the quarter-finals of the boys championships at Wimbledon, is all the more impressive.
Potentially, he could have been playing fellow Brit Arthur Fery, but fate put Japan’s Shintaro Mochizuki in the way and he lost to the 8th seed, 6-3 6-3.
The 18-year old from Kent, Matusevich, the sole British now left junior standing, therefore, will be facing Mochizuki for a place in the semi-finals on Thursday.
A year since the precocious Brit boldly declared at Wimbledon that he was his own tennis idol, he has been replaced on the pedestal in his mind.
Now, that spot is shared by three people – his grandfather, the mathematician Leonhard Euler, and the composer Johann Sebastian Bach.
He told Sportsmail after his win on Tuesday: “I don’t believe in ice baths. Cold water, so what? I don’t think it helps at all. I just stretch and roll and get a massage.”
Matusevich is a bright lad, who plays grade 7 piano and attends Judd School in Kent, and it is predicted he will gain two A*s and an A in his A Levels in Maths, Further Maths and Economics.
“He is one of the strongest guys in the draw,” he said of Rune going into the match. “The guy has no life, he just plays tennis every bloody day.
“He is just going to make so many balls, lock in every point, he’s got nothing in his life apart from tennis to do.
“All I see on Instagram is him feeding a bunch of balls. The guy is good at tennis, you’ve got to give him credit for that, but I’ll try to mentally get in his head, that is the key.”
The Dane appeared reluctant to shake his opponent’s hand at the end of the match but Matusevich played down the incident.
“I think he was just pretty upset,” said Matusevich, “We talk off court and stuff. We don’t even know each other too well.
“Maybe now there’ll be a rivalry if I play him again. I think literally our hands were pretty sweaty, which is why we didn’t get a proper handshake. I don’t think he actually meant to just walk off.
“Wimbledon is just the greatest tournament. You want to win every round.”
Matusevich made his first boys’ singles appearance at Wimbledon last year, where he was handed a wild card into the qualifying draw.
He had lost to Rune 6-3 6-2 last week in the ITF Grade 1 in Roehampton and was buoyed by the support of the crowd and a group of friends, who he had lured to the match with free ground passes.
“They were supporting me and it gets you fired up especially,” said the 18-year-old, who completed his A level exams just a few weeks ago will now devote himself to tennis full time.
“I got them grounds passes, my two best friends, and I said guys, bring the support tomorrow.
“It was a very good atmosphere out there. Obviously, the crowd will be behind me, but I sometimes block out the crowd and like to focus on each point.”
Matusevich, who said he didn’t think the quality of the match particularly high, got the only break of the first set, and had no trouble closing it out, but he failed to capitalise on his 4 match points serving at 5-4 in the second, leading to a tense few minutes for his mates and the rest of the crowd.
Rune played a poor game to get broken again, although Matusevich did come up with an excellent lob winner to end it, and in the next game he made no mistake, hitting a good serve to earn his 5th match point and closing it out with an ace.
“I was playing very smart today, I think,” said Matusevich, the 2018 US Open Junior doubles champion.
“I wasn’t hitting my forehand unbelievably well; I wasn’t killing it. I was just making the return, slicing a lot…no rhythm, just win, find a way against this guy, so I was really happy.”
Matusevich will face No 8 seed Mochizuki, victor over Fery, whom he beat last week in the round of 16 at Roehampton 6-1 6-4.
It didn’t take the Japanese long on the grass courts to realise that he loved them.
Just three weeks ago, he had his first practice on the surface in Nottingham, and he ended the week by winning the title without dropping a set.
“It was my first time playing on a grass court,” he said. “On the first day, I was playing so badly!
“My coach gave me some advice and since then it’s getting better and better. I’m playing better on grass than I thought – [at the beginning] I was a little bit scared.”
Belying his height, Mochizuki hits the ball hard and flat, and he loves to come to the net.
He has spent the past 4 years training at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, following in the footsteps of his idol and occasional practice partner Kei Nishikori.
“I couldn’t even speak English,” he said, laughing as he recounted his first days living on foreign soil. “I remember, I didn’t even know, ‘How old are you?’
“My coach is Japanese and he spoke English so he helped me to translate. I went to school there and my English improved.”
At the age of 3, Mochizuki was introduced to tennis by his father, who drives a taxi, and he would spend most of his days with a racket gripped tightly in his hand.
He stormed to victories in the under 14 divisions of both the Eddie Herr International and the Orange Bowl, but the introverted Mochizuki was still searching for the confidence to soar.
“I didn’t know how it felt [to win] – Orange Bowl champion?” he said, shaking his head. “I was like, ‘Why am I here?’ I didn’t know what I was doing.”
He likes the spotlight now and realises that playing in front of a big crowd can tempt him to show off a little and give the crowd a show.
“So many people come to watch me and support me,” he said. “I can be nervous, but I like it. I’m more powerful [in front of a crowd].
“I wanna play good because everyone is watching, but if I try to play cool, I play always badly. So I just focus on myself and I just fight.”
Between a Roland Garros semi-final in his junior slam debut and a run to the quarter-finals of Wimbledon, it is clear that Mochizuki’s fight is winning.
Martin Damm has a comfort level at Wimbledon very few can claim, a feeling that stems from his trips there dating to before he was old enough to form memories.
After his 6-2 6-3 win over unseeded Taha Baadi of Canada to reach the Junior Championships quarter-finals, he recalled the trips to the All England Club with his father Martin Damm, an ATP professional.
“Yesterday we actually visited creche, the daycare that’s here, and we were always there,” said the 15-year-old left-hander. “I saw a picture from when I was like 10 months old, the first time I was here, and basically every year I’ve been coming here since, until the last four years, when my dad stopped playing.
“This is the tournament I came to the most, and I have the best memories, not just because my dad was playing here, but all the memories I made in that daycare, all the players I met when I was a little kid; it’s pretty special here.”
Damm played his first junior slam last summer at the US Open, but has already reached the French Open boys semi-final and is the No 4 seed this week.
The youngest Kalamazoo 16s champion in the tournament’s long history, Damm credits the work he has done with Dr. Larry Lauer’s USTA Mental Skills staff for his success this year on the ITF Junior Circuit.
“It’s for sure mental,” said Damm, “though obviously tennis-wise as well. Before Kalamazoo, I had a couple tough tournaments, so we sat down with the USTA coaches, my agent, my dad.
“I’ve put in a lot of work on the mental side, and to be honest, that’s the biggest key to my success lately.
“All the routines, what we’ve set up in practices, in our talks, I think a lot of the matches I’ve won against the older guys, it’s more the mental side than the physical.”
Damm had beaten Baadi at the Grade A in Italy back in May.
“I had confidence, I beat him in Milan, so it was just about executing, doing the things we worked on after my [second round] match,” said Damm, who hit 8 aces in the 53-minute match. “And I think I served very well and that helped a lot on grass.”
Damm’s opponent in Thursday’s quarter-final is No 10 seed Carlos Alcaraz Garfia of Spain, who squeezed past lucky loser Will Grant, 6-4 5-7 8-6.
Alcaraz Garfia served for the match 3 times, but didn’t have a match point on his own serve until he led 7-6.
Grant saved 4 match points serving at 3-5 in the third set, and buoyed by that comeback, attacked the Alcaraz Garfia serve aggressively, but the 16-year-old Spaniard finally ended Grant’s impressive tournament on his third attempt.
In the bottom half of the boys draw, the only seed remaining is No 17 Harold Mayot of France, who beat American No 6 seed Brandon Nakashima, 6-4 6-4.
Mayot will face Illya Beloborodko of Ukraine, who beat Nicolas Alvarez Varona of Spain, 7-6(3) 6-4.
Dalibor Svrcina of the Czech Republic will play Carlos Valero Gimeno of Spain in the other bottom half quarter-final.