Like Simona Halep, Saturday proved to be a very special day for Daria Snigur, a 17-year old from the Ukraine, who came through the Girls Singles Championship draw against the odds, unseeded, to claim her first and last Grand Slam trophy in the juniors.
I can't believe it. It was my dream. It's very good for me. I worked hard every day for this trophy. It's incredible. Daria Snigur
Coached by Larisa Savchenko-Neiland, the former World No 1 ranked doubles player who won 2 doubles and 4 mixed Grand Slam titles, Snigur jumped for joy after defeating American Alexa Noel, 6-4 6-4, to be crowned the 2019 Wimbledon girls’ champion.
“I can’t believe it. It was my dream,” said Snigur. “It’s very good for me. I worked hard every day for this trophy. It’s incredible.”
Snigur joins some illustrious names to win both Roehampton and the Wimbledon girls’ title, including Amélie Mauresmo, Eugenie Bouchard, Belinda Bencic, Jelena Ostapenko and Claire Liu.
She also adds to the growing power of Ukrainian players, with 4 women currently inside the world’s top 100, and is the 5th from her nation to reach a junior girls’ final but only the 2nd, after Kateryna Bondarenko in 2004, to win the title.
Both Snigur and Noel were nervous, playing on the packed No 1 Court in what was the biggest occasion of their young careers.
Noel seemed to handle the surroundings best, moving to a 4-1 lead in the first set as she blunted Snigur’s power and depth with her own variety and slice, aided by her opponent’s double faults and unforced errors which allowed the 16-year-old American the space she needed to use her eclectic game.
The Ukrainian then found her range, moving the ball around and forcing Noel onto the back foot.
“I know her game because we played in Roehampton final,” Snigur said later, having comprehensively beaten Noel at the Grade 1 event on the eve of the Junior Championships.
“I play strong shots on forehand and backhand. I don’t like slice. I don’t like this,” she added, gesturing with her arms to high, loopy balls.
Snigur’s groundstrokes are immaculate, even if her serve is somewhat unorthodox, and her game has carried her to a 12-match run by keeping the ball to such a length with pace that few can overcome.
She dropped just one set at The Championships and stunned the No 1 seed and recent Roland-Garros runner-up, Emma Navarro, 6-3 6-0, in the semi-finals.
After her nervous start on No1 court, Snigur used her excellent backhand to recover from the 1-4 deficit and, after saving 3 break points at 3-4 to pull even, she then broke Noel and served out the set, claiming the last 5 games to secure it in 46 minutes.
There were signs of recovery from Noel, who broke serve in the opening game of the second, disrupting her opponent’s rhythm with her clever variety to claim a 3-0 advantage.
Snigur adjusted, holding to love to cut Noel’s lead to 3-1, while a net cord winner and 2 unforced errors got her the break back, and although the American held for a 4-3 lead, the Ukrainian dug back in, holding herself and then breaking to love to go up 5-4.
Serving for the match, Snigur had no trouble holding, converting her first match point appropriately with a backhand winner, then falling to her knees, having secured her victory after an hour and 22 minutes of enthralling play.
The crowd applauded warmly for both players, although they might have been wishing for a third set.
After shaking hands, Snigur sprinted to her player box to embrace her father before collecting her winner’s trophy.
Noel will learn from her experience.
“It was great. I was just happy I could be in that position,” said the American, noting that Snigur’s unusual style contains some surprising weapons.
“She’s a very good player. She is super-deceiving and she loves her backhand. She can hit her backhand from anywhere in the court and she was running to the deuce side to get backhands.
“She’s just a different kind of player. It’s not a normal thing to play against. It’s hard to face. She’s good.”
Noel stressed that although Snigur appears less athletic or intense than her opponents, the reality of facing the Ukrainian is far different.
“She’s not crazy-intense and she doesn’t look like she moves but when she gets on the court when we’re playing, she does,” she added.
“You’re like, ‘Oh, just move her around, maybe you’ll get a few mistakes.’ But, she’s quick. She’s there to win as everyone else is.’”
Snigur loves the grass, saying: “It’s a very fast surface. I love when points are fast.”
With her junior career now completed on the highest possible note, Snigur hopes to take the confidence of a Wimbledon title onto the pro tour.
Asked if the pressure has abated, at least for a while, she smiled: “Yes, yes. I am tired now. I can relax.”
Until Sunday evening, that is, when there is the Champions’ Dinner to attend and, with that, the 17-year-old reminds that she is still a teenager.
“I’m nervous,” she admitted. “I’m nervous before match, during the match, after the match. I’m nervous [the] whole time.”
Reflecting on a match she felt she could have won, Neol said: “I think that obviously I was so nervous going into that match,” the 16 year-old said.
“My first slam final, on a huge court. But I could tell she was nervous as well so that gave me a little more confidence that this was normal and being nervous was ok.”
“Then I got up 4-1 and then I remembered where I was, ‘Oh, I’m on court one!’ I got super nervous. She just handled the nerves better than me.”
Noel leaves Wimbledon after a stunning few months across the clay and grass of Europe, which included a title at the Milan Grade A event and finals at Wimbledon and Roehampton.
For Snigur, who may play the ITF Junior Masters this autumn, the Wimbledon title was a perfect way to end her junior career.
“It’s a very good feeling,” said Snigur. “Very good for me, for my career, I think. Because I won 15(K), 25(K) women’s tournaments, but I want to win Grand Slam of course. It was my dream.”
While Snigur now is setting out to build on her WTA ranking of 423, Noel will be playing the USTA National 18s Championships in San Diego next month and the US Open Junior Championships in September.
But first they will get an opportunity to mingle with others who excelled on the grass of the All England Club during the fortnight, when they attend Sunday’s Champions Dinner.
“I’ve been so excited about that,” Noel said. “I just got told about that. I’m so excited.”
Three other Americans will join Noel there, after winning their doubles semi-final matches on Saturday. Govind Nanda, playing with Canadian Liam Draxl, will take on top seeds Jonas Forejtek and Jiri Lehecka of the Czech Republic in the boys doubles final.
The No 7 seeds defeated the British wild card team of Arthur Fery & Toby Samuel, 6-4 6-3, in the semi-finals, while Forejtek & Lehecka outlasted No.3 seeds Martin Damm & Toby Kodat, 6-2 3-6 6-3.
Savannah Broadus & Abigail Forbes played a near-perfect semi-final Saturday morning, beating Aubane Droguet & Selena Janicijevic of France 6-1 6-1 in 43 minutes.
Broadus & Forbes will face Kamilla Bartone of Latvia & Oksana Selekhmeteva of Russia in the girls final.
The boys final is scheduled for Sunday, with No 8 seed Shintaro Mochizuki of Japan facing unseeded Carlos Gimeno Valero of Spain.