Shintaro Mochizuki’s first experience on grass was just a few weeks ago, and now the 16-year-old has made history by becoming the first Japanese player to lift the Grand Slam boys’ singles trophy at The Championships.
I just practised a lot and improved with all matches. Like, my coaches gave me a lot of advice. Shintaro Mochizuki
Mochizuki, who defeated the unseeded Carlos Gimeno Valero, 6-3 6-2, in the boys’ final on a packed No 1 Court on Sunday, admitted it had all been a bit daunting.
“I’m shy, so I was like, ‘Why do I have to do that?” he admitted. “But it was fun. It’s so many people were there. Yeah, I was a little bit nervous.”
Both players dealt with the occasion well, however, playing on the huge court in a full stadium for the first time, holding their opening serves but then giving way to 5 consecutive breaks.
From the beginning, Mochizuki’s return was as spectacular as his backhand and, as he gradually got a hold of his vulnerable serve, he finished the first set with style.
Although he was up a break at 2-1 and 3-2, the Japanese couldn’t assert himself until he broke Gimeno Valero at 3-3 and held for a 5-3 lead.
With his dangerous backhand beginning to find its range, the speedy Mochizuki forced the Spaniard into errors, and broke him for the 4th time to close out the 25-minute first set.
“I like coming to the net,” said Mochizuki, who trains at the IMG Academy in Bradenton Florida and is guided by Natsuo Yamanaka.
“My coach taught me, like, I’m good at that. I just practised a lot and improved with all matches. Like, my coaches gave me a lot of advice.”
His physical weapons are backed by an impressive composure, as he demonstrated in his dominance over Gimeno Valero.
It was a stunning performance from the 16 year-old, who attacked relentlessly, was able to return virtually every serve, and sent backhand winners past the Spaniard opponent at will.
After a quick hold to open the second set, Mochizuki won the next 3 points on Gimeno Valero’s serve, but the 18-year-old from Alicante saved them all, plus a 4th, for 1-1.
The next game proved pivotal, with Mochizuki recovering from 15-40 down and saving a 3rd break point in the 5-deuce game to hold, when Gimeno Valero just missed a backhand passing shot, which Hawkeye deemed was out.
“First set, I got broken twice, two games,” said Mochizuki, who had saved a match point in his 6-1 0-6 10-8 semi-final win over No 4 seed Martin Damm of the United States.
“I wanted to hold my service game a lot. It was good. I played really tough. He had some break points, but I just tried my best to hold my service game. Yes, it was really important game for me.”
Gimeno Valero agreed that he had missed an opportunity to turn the match around in that game.
“In second set I have chance with 3 break points after winning my serve, having break points in the next game,” said Gimeno Valero, who was playing in his first grass court tournament this week.
“He play better these important points and after, he breaks me.”
After getting that break for 3-1, Mochizuki held, and Gimeno Valero had another opportunity, which turned out to be his last, with the Japanese serving at 4-2.
A good return at 30-all gave the Spaniard a break point, but Mochizuki, now looking supremely confident, hammered a forehand winner to save it and, after 2 more deuces, crushed a backhand to hold.
Gimeno Valero went down 0-40 with Mochizuki hitting 2 forehands and an overhead for winners, but the Spaniard saved all three to get back to deuce.
The 16 year old, who won his first tournament on grass in Nottingham just 3 weeks ago, finished his stunning performance with a searing backhand down the line winner, his 27th winner of the day to only 15 unforced errors.
Across the net, the tall big hitter Gimeno Valero managed only 11 winners, testimony to Mochizuki’s aggression that belies his stature, which he credits to his coach.
“My coach, like Natsuo, he taught me. I liked coming to the net. My coach taught me, like, I’m good at that. I just practiced a lot and improved with all matches. Like my coaches gave me a lot of advices. Yeah, I like coming into the net, yeah, a lot,” he said.
For all his shyness, Mochizuki swaggers around the court with a loose confidence, vocal with his cheering and fist-pumping.
At one point, he finished an easy high ball with a ‘slam dunk’ jumping smash.
“Was a big chance to do that, so I just did it for fun,” he said, laughing. “Yeah, it was easy ball. I just wanted to make people, like, having fun watching me, yeah.”
Mochizuki has trained at the IMG Academy for 4 years and, among the many pros who he has hit with and received advice from, a certain Kei Nishikori stands out.
The former World No 4, who exited to Roger Federer in the men’s quarter-finals this year, was one of the first to congratulate the new champion on social media.
There’s some notable common ground between the two Japanese players. Nishikori also famously relocated from Japan to Florida as a teenager, helped by the support of former Sony executive Masaaki Morita.
The pair have hit together numerous times and the elder Japanese takes such an interest in the youngster that he has inspired the 16 year-old’s bowing celebration to the crowd in victory.
“He’s really nice,” said Mochizuki, smiling at the mention of his role model’s name. “He gives me a lot of advice at the academy. Like sometimes I practice with him. I learn from him a lot. Yeah, he’s smart.”
After shocking the junior circuit by reaching the final of Wimbledon, the first grass event of his entire career, Gimeno Valero leaves his first Wimbledon with a smile and a positive outlook to take into the upcoming events.
“[I gained] a lot of confidence from this tournament and that’s it,” he said. “[I will play] European championships. In the summer I want to play futures, maybe if I have the chance to play some challengers.”
Despite his initial shyness, Mochizuki was expressive in his victory celebrations, having impressively demonstrated his ability to perform on a big stage.
“I don’t care about the crowds when I play tennis. Like I just focus on myself, just play tennis,`” he concluded.
The top-seed Czech duo of Jonas Forejtek & Jiri Lehecka defeated Liam Draxl & Govind Nanda, from Canada and USA respectively, 7-5 6-4 to win the boys’ doubles title, while an all-American team claimed the girls’ doubles event, Savannah Broadus & Abigail Forbes overcoming Latvian Kamilla Bartone & Russian Oksana Selekhmeteva, 7-5 5-7 6-2, in just under 2 hours.
The girls doubles final was the only only junior championship match to go the distance this year.
Broadus & Forbes had lost to Bartone & Selkhmeteva twice already this year, in the second round at the French and the second round last week in Roehampton, but the pair learned valuable lessons from both those outings.
“We learned specific plays that we can run,” said Broadus, a 16-year-old from Texas. “Going to Kamilla’s forehand, because it’s her weaker side and Oksana has really good hands, so keeping it away from her.”
Forbes, an 18-year-old from North Carolina, added: “Personally for me, we need to keep our first serve percentage up, setting up Savannah for poaches at the net, moving forward.
“I think it was crucial for us to hold serve today, and we did a really good job with that.”
Broadus & Forbes got the only break of the first set, with Selekhmeteva serving at 5-6, but the Latvian and Russian broke Broadus at 5-all and Selekhmeteva evened the match by holding serve.
The Americans took an early lead 3-0 lead in the third set and never had a break point against them, as they kept their lead and broke Selekhmeteva for the title.
Broadus & Forbes had an idea that they had a chance at the title after their first match.
“We played really well in our first match,” said Broadus, “and we thought to ourselves, we can really do this.”
“We had confidence in each of our games, but I think why we did so well is that we didn’t get ahead of ourselves,” Forbes added.
“We played like we were coming up from behind on every point and I think we were always fighting and fighting and we never gave up.”
Forbes & Broadus are not playing together at the upcoming USTA National 18s Championships in San Diego, but they are expected to compete as a team at the College Park Grade 1 and the US Open Junior Championships.
First, they had an even more important date, at Sunday night’s Champions dinner.
“We are really looking forward to getting all dressed up,” Broadus said. “A lot of people have proms they get all dressed up for, but I’m home schooled, so I’ve never gotten dressed up like this before; that’s just exciting.”
“I’ve done prom twice now,” Forbes said.
“She’s going to help me pick out my dress because I don’t know what I’m doing,” Broadus added.
“They take us to a place, they have dresses upon dresses, people who do our hair and makeup. They have shoes and everything for us.”
“That’s what they explained, so we’re just going to go there and pick it out,” Forbes said.
Although selecting the right dress might take some time, both Broadus & Forbes were quick to come up with names of the players they most wanted to see.
“Definitely Fed and Serena,” Broadus said. “Fed, and Serena, those are my two,” Forbes said.”
All of the Wimbledon junior champions are first-time slam winners, with the exception of Jonas Forejtek of the Czech Republic, who added a Wimbledon championship to the doubles title he won with a different partner in Australia.
Forejtek took the title in Melbourne with another Czech, Dalibor Svrcina, but after a first round loss at the French Open last month, the long-time partners went their ways, and Forejtek turned to Jiri Lehecka, also from the Czech Republic.
Although they lost in the second round at Roehampton, they quickly found their form on the grass, with the top seeds taking the boys title with a straight sets win over No 7 seeds Nanda & Draxl.
“I was playing more men’s tournaments and I didn’t play juniors, didn’t play doubles much,” Forejtek said.
“When Dalibor and I lost in first round there, we didn’t play well, so we decided we should switch partners. I switched to him, and it was pretty good change, I think.”
With Forejtek seeded No 2 in singles and losing in the first round, and Lehecka seeded N. 5 and losing in the second round, the Czech pair could see their doubles as a chance for redemption.
“We didn’t do well in singles, we were not happy with our singles, so we were still like, let’s go for the doubles,” Forejtek said.
“We were pumped,” Lehecka agreed.
In the opening set of the final, the Czech team got an early break, but Forejtek was broken serving at 4-3.
Although they missed their share of volleys, the Czech team continued their commitment to aggressive net play, and they capitalised when they broke Draxl at 5-all.
Forejtek needed to save a break point serving at 6-5, but they converted their second set point, with Lehecka securing it with a forehand volley winner.
“We got broken at 5-all, but we still had chances at 5-6,” said Nanda, who played a semester of college tennis at UCLA this year. “We missed a lot of opportunities.”
“They were the first team that was serving that big and hitting that big off the ground,” said Draxl, a rising freshman at Kentucky.
“Me and Govind hit a bunch of good returns, but they hit it almost as hard right back and deep. It was tough to be on the offence side of the point.”
Lehecka & Forejtek, who got the only break of the second set at 4-all, with Lehecka serving out the title, said the surface was definitely a factor in their playing style.
“The grass is different in so many ways,” the 17-year-old Lehecka said. “We tried to play what is best to play on grass and I think we did our best.”
“We were focusing on our serves, which I think is a lot important on grass,” said the 18-year-old Forejtek.
“We didn’t lose many serves in the tournament and when we got chances on break, we took them.”
Both said it may be Sunday evening before they fully grasp that they are Wimbledon champions, and after that they will consider their schedule for the last few months of their junior careers, with the view to probably teaming up again at the US Open Junior Championships.