Two Americans have made it into the Girls Singles at The Championships, top seed Emma Navarro and Alexa Noel.
While reaching the semi-finals of a junior slam is nothing new for them, with both equalling what they accomplished at the French Open Junior Championships last month.
“It’s great,” said the 16-year-old from New Jersey. “I’ve played all the slams and hadn’t got past the third round, so making the semis is amazing.”
Noel has yet to lose a set this week and, in Thursday’s quarter-finals, she defeated unseeded Priska Nugroho of Indonesia, 7-6(4) 6-2, making the most of her own unconventional game.
“It’s for sure different,” Noel said. “You don’t see as much slice, trying to come to the net. At least everyone that I play just tries to hit through the court, and I don’t try to do that.”
Noel understands that power has its place, but she considers others adapting to her game style, rather than vice versa, gives her the upper hand.
“I know there are shots, of course, you step in and rip, but not a lot of people are used to my game, so it’s an advantage for me,” Noel said.
“Me being able to change the pace, go a little faster if I need to, that’s good for me, because it’s my choice.”
Noel says the biggest change in her game from last year, when she lost in the second round, is in her attitude.
“I think I’m a lot mentally stronger,” said Noel, who is now training in Kansas City with David Span. “Obviously my game has improved, but I trust myself a lot more now.
“I just think I’m better at dealing with difficult situations–when it’s close, when I’m nervous, when the score’s tight, when the girl’s playing well–I think I deal with it a little bit better.”
Noel will face her first seed in Friday’s semi-final, No 4 Diane Parry of France, who beat compatriot Elsa Jacquemot, 6-1 6-4, in an hour and 10 minutes on Court 18.
Noel and Parry have split their previous two meetings, both on clay, with Parry winning at last year’s Youth Olympic Games and Noel winning at the Grade 1 Yucatan Cup in 2017.
“Both were pretty close matches,” said Noel, who feels an affinity with the game style of World No 1 Ashleigh Barty.
“I’m just going to try play my game and embrace that I’m in the semis of Wimbledon.”
Navarro’s progress through the draw has been harder than Noel’s, having dropped a set in her last 3 matches to reach the semis, last winning over Japan’s No 6 seed Natsumi Kawaguchi, 4-6 6-1 6-1, in an hour and a half.
“I think it’s a combination of me being a little slow and them coming out firing,” said Navarro, who lost the first set to compatriot Katrina Scott 6-0 on Wednesday, before again finishing with two 6-1 sets in her favour.
“It’s kind of a bad habit of mine to work my way into matches, to come out and see what they are going to do, and against good players, they’ll come out swinging like she did, playing big, and if I’m not ready for that and completely committed to what I’m doing, they’ll take control of every point.”
With Navarro’s success on the pro tour this spring and her run to the French Open girls final, the 18-year-old has seen plenty of big hitting, and she ranks the 17-year-old left-hander’s power in that top category.
“It’s similar,” said Navarro. “On every shot she’s going big and she’s either going to make it or miss it. It depends on my ability to be able to push back against her pace and neutralise it, because most girls can’t hit four or five shots like that in a row.”
While Kawaguchi managed to do that in the first set, Navarro began to make her hit more shots as the match wore on, and the unforced errors came in bunches, with the Japanese committing 60 in total.
Navarro will play unseeded Daria Snigur of Ukraine for a place in her second consecutive slam final, after Snigur defeated qualifier Polina Kudermetova of Russia, 6-2 6-4.
Snigur, who won the Roehampton Grade 1 last week, and Navarro are meeting for the third consecutive junior slam, with the Ukrainian winning in the third round in Australia, 3-6 6-4 6-2, and the American, 6-7(6) 6-3 6-2, in the quarter-finals at Roland Garros.
“She’s a very good player,” said Navarro, who also beat Snigur on clay last year. “She has unconventional strokes and looking at her, it’s frustrating to play against.
“She doesn’t look as good as the other girls, look like she’s moving as good as other girls, but she hits big and flat and low and it’ll be tough on grass.”
Despite beating Kudermetova in straight sets in 61 minutes to reach her first Wimbledon semi-final, Snigur left the court in some disgust after she failed to serve out the match at 5-2 in the second set, nerves suffocating her as she neared the finish line.
“I’m not happy now because I played so bad in the last 2 games,” she said, shaking her head. “I feel pressure now and all matches will be hard.
“All guys told me, ‘Ooh, you can win Wimbledon. It’s very good for you. Grass is your court’, and it’s pressure. It’s very hard for me.”
Snigur’s run to the semi-final moves her winning streak to 10 matches after her victory in Roehampton last week.
“I loved Roehampton,” she said, beaming. “When I came to Roehampton, I think that I can’t win this tournament because it was my second time on grass and my first tournament on grass!
“So I was thinking, I won the tournament? [it made me think] I can do this and I can win Wimbledon.”
Snigur is enjoying a brilliant season at both junior and professional level.
Before her grass dominance, she scaled the Australian Open semi-finals and then reached the quarter-final at the French Open, belying the fact that she detests the slow rallies of attrition on the dirt.
Her professional career has already yielded 3 titles since December, including a W25 event in Kashiwa, Japan and while many players look up to the professional events as their next great challenge, she offers a different perspective.
“I think juniors is harder because they are my girls,” she said. “I play all this time with my girls and we always have really hard matches.
“I don’t know the senior girls and I have easy matches when I don’t know girls. When I know the girls, it’s very hard for me. If I don’t know them, It’s easy for me.”
Snigur’s father taught her to play tennis and back in Kyiv, she is coached by former top 20 player Larisa Savchenko at her academy.
She has finished school and is already looking at studying sports psychology at university.
The 17 year-old has decided that Wimbledon will be her final junior event.
In girls doubles, Navarro & Chloe Beck, the No 7 seeds, defeated the British wild card team of Holly Fischer & Matilda Mutavdzic, 6-3 5-7 6-4, while unseeded Savannah Broadus & Abigail Forbes moved into the quarter-finals with a 6-4 7-5 win over Waronika Baszak & Martyna Kubka of Poland.