Melbourne | Future champions kick off in Aussie Juniors
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The junior championships are well under way Down Under, with the best young players from around the world vying for junior honours at the year’s first Grand Slam being held in Melbourne.
It’s different, for sure. The pros are more serious, that’s the most important thing. They serve really well, better serves and returns than the juniors. But I think the level of juniors is very high, so every single match here is going to be tough. It helped me to play some Challengers before, and I’m ready to play juniors again. Harold Mayot
The top seeds in both draws were French, with in-form Harold Mayot tipped to be the frontrunner in the boys while Elsa Jacquemot was the top seed in the girls, but the 16-year-old lost in 3 sets in the second round.
Jacquemot reached the quarter-finals at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon last year ,and was hoping to follow in the footsteps of Kristina Mladenovic, the last French girl to taste Junior Grand Slam glory at Roland Garros in 2009.
“It would be amazing to win a Grand Slam and I welcome the pressure of playing here as the No 1 seeded player,” Jacquemot told itftennis.com after her first match.
“I am happy with my performance today and I am very happy with the result as it is never easy to win the first match at a Grand Slam.”
Junior tennis, however, can be unpredictable and Jacquemot, who rose 119 ranking places during 2019 to finish as the year-end as junior No 7, had a tough opening encounter against Russia’s Erika Andreeva, which she eventually won 6-4 3-6 6-3, but then she fell foul of Alexandra Vecic from Germany, losing 7-5 4-6 6-3 on Monday.
Mayot opened his tournament campaign with a win against German qualifier Benito Sanchez Martinez, 6-2 7-5, and plays again on Tuesday.
Having reached the semi-finals at of the juniors at Wimbledon in July last year, Mayot is bidding to become the first French boy to conquer a Junior Grand Slam since Geoffrey Blancaneaux triumphed at Roland Garros in 2016.
It is more than decade, meanwhile, since a French boy topped the podium at the Australian Open, with Alexandre Sidorenko the last to do so in 2006
The second seed in the boys is America’s Martin Damm, who was last in Australia when his father, Martin Damm Sr, was competing at the Australian Open in the early 2000s, but the 16-year-old is too young to remember it.
“This was the Grand Slam I came to the least, just because of how far it was,” says Damm, whose dad reached the 2006 men’s doubles final at Melbourne Park before winning the US Open doubles title later that year.
After a rough start to his return in testing conditions in Traralgon last week, the rangey American looks to have found his stride in time for his Australian Open debut, opening with a 6-4 6-1 victory over Venezuela’s Lorenzo Claverie.
“Traralgon was pretty rough, with the weather – it was raining for three straight days there and lots of wind,” explained Damm, who will face Serbia’s Hamad Medjedovic in the second round.
“Then we came here and had some good practice, got used to the weather here, and so far it’s been pretty perfect.”
2019 was a breakout year for Damm, who reached the semi-finals at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon, where he was pipped by eventual champion Shintaro Mochizuki, 6-1 0-6 [10-8].
“I was pretty devastated after that, but then we just went back to work,” he reflects.
“For me right now, it doesn’t matter so much about the results – I just need to work and trust that I’ll have even better results.
“Those semi-final runs gave me a lot of confidence. They taught me how to play in a bigger environment, like here at the Grand Slams where the pressure is a little higher.”
With two years left in the junior ranks, time is on Damm’s side in terms of his development, but thoughts have already turned to the professional ranks, especially after reaching the final of M25 Naples in Florida late in 2019.
“Obviously, a goal of mine is to win a Grand Slam,” Damm said. “That would be a big achievement for me.
“But I’m also going to start playing more ITF World Tennis Tour events now, and maybe hopefully ATP Challengers in the US, to hopefully get used to playing with the older guys and having good results there as well.”
Top seed Mayot is well on his way with his transition to the pros, having warmed up for his Australian Open campaign with Challenger appearances in New Caledonia and Bendigo, where he reached the quarter-finals before falling to former World No 21 Steve Johnson.
“It’s different, for sure,” Mayot said of the junior-senior experience. “The pros are more serious, that’s the most important thing.
“They serve really well, better serves and returns than the juniors. But I think the level of juniors is very high, so every single match here is going to be tough.
“It helped me to play some Challengers before, and I’m ready to play juniors again.”
Like Damm, the majors are Mayot’s 2020 focus as he looks to sign off his junior career on a high after a solid season in 2019, culminating in his run to the ITF World Tennis Tour Junior Finals in Chengdu.
“After that, if I won one, I would stop juniors,” said the 17-year-old.
“I will play Roland Garros, because it’s in my home country, but I think if I won here or there, I would stop.
“And I’m going to play Chengdu as I did last year, if my ranking is good enough.
“Chengdu was a great experience. It’s like a Masters, which is a change to the other tournaments.
“It’s a great tournament for the juniors, and it was a good experience. Every match was tough, every battle was hard – I made the final, which was great, and lost to Holger [Vitus Nodskov Rune], who was the best player in juniors last year. I hope to win Chengdu this year.”
Swiss prodigy Leandro Riedi is unlikely to forget precious advice from Roger Federer in a hurry, and is using his pre-tournament audience with the 20-time Grand Slam champion to fuel his Australian Open ambition.
Riedi, who is seeded No 6 at Melbourne Park, cruised into the third round of a Junior Grand Slam for the first time following a commanding 6-3 6-2 victory over Belgium’s Alexander Hoogmartens.
It was the perfect way for Riedi to celebrate his 18th birthday.
Along with fellow Swiss players Jeffrey von der Schulenburg and Dominic Stricker, Riedi was invited to stop off in Dubai prior to arriving in Australia for a training camp with Federer, an opportunity he seized with both hands.
“It was a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Riedi told itftennis.com. “It was unbelievable. We went to Dubai and trained with the best player of all time. I was so grateful and so happy.
“I learned a lot from Roger and practice was really fun. He gave me some great advice about how to look after my body and about the mental side of the game.
“I asked him about playing and winning in the fifth set, how hard it is and his mindset in that moment. We talked, talked and talked. It was so enjoyable.
“Building on that, being here at the Australian Open, it’s really fascinating to see all the professional players and their coaches and observe how they work in the gym, for instance, and how they eat. It’s so special.”
While Von der Schulenburg, the No 4 seed in the boys’ draw, has already exited the competition, Riedi, who will play Latvian No 12 seed Karlis Ozolins for a place in the quarter-finals, and Stricker remain.
Meanwhile, four more seeded players bowed out of the boys’ draw – Japan’s Shunsuke Mitsui, Kwololwam Montsi of South Africa, China’s Hanwen Li and Frenchman Terence Atmane also slipped to defeat on Monday, losing to Czech Republic’s Martin Krumich, France’s Timo Legout, Arthur Fery of Great Britain and Russian Egor Agafonov respectively.
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Top-ranked girls were not immune from suffering a similar fate as top seed Jacquemot, joined at the exit door by No 6 seed Maria Bondarenko, who succumbed 6-3 5-7 7-6(8) to Czech Republic’s Darja Vidmanova and Canada’s Melodie Collard, the No 10 seed, bowing out after losing 4-6 7-6(5) 6-3 to France’s Aubane Droguet.
Following in the footsteps of her brother Titouan, who competed here in 2018, Droguet was not completely satisfied with her performance, while a showdown with No 8 seed Polina Kudermetova awaits for a place in the quarter-finals.
“I am really happy because I have only ever passed the first round at a Junior Grand Slam before,” Droguet told itftennis.com, who cites Canada’s Bianca Andreescu as the figure she most aspires to be.
“I wasn’t happy with my performance, however, because I was really tense.
“But I dealt with those feelings and had my tactics. I didn’t play my own game and that’s disappointing but I play to win and that’s the main thing.”
Kudermetova advanced to round three after overcoming wild card Erika Matsuda, while fellow seeded players Ane Mintegi del Olmo of Spain, China’s Zhuoxuan Bai and Indonesia’s Priska Madelyn Nugroho also progressed.
Alexandra Eala burst out of the pack late in the year, going from the qualifying draw at the US Open to No 4 seed in the girls’ singles draw just four months later.
The 14-year-old from the Philippines shot up the rankings after stunning performances at the Grade A events, winning JA Cape Town and reaching the final of JA Osaka, and opened her Australian Open campaign with a 6-0 4-6 6-2 victory over Israel’s Shavit Kimchi.
“Cape Town was probably one of the first big wins I had in the junior circuit,” Eala said. “It really meant a lot to me – it boosted my confidence a lot, and it boosted my ranking. Everything went up from there.”
Eala also pays credit to the impact of her scholarship at the Rafael Nadal Academy, something of a dream for a player who idolises the Spaniard, as well as Simona Halep.
“They are two big idols for me, ever since I was young,” Eala said. “The academy in Spain is amazing – it’s done so much for my tennis and I’m so lucky to be one of their scholars.
“I definitely wouldn’t be here without them, and I appreciate their support. It’s very demanding physically and mentally, especially being away from your family. But it helps you grow as a person, and as a player also.
“I’ve been watching Rafa ever since I was playing tennis. you learn things from watching him and from him being your idol you get tips from him about good behaviour, good mentality, working hard and things like that. Being in the academy is a really big honour for me – for them to help me out is amazing.”
Robin Montgomery, a Junior Fed Cup by BNP Paribas winner with USA in September, is the No 2 seed in the girls’ draw and she progressed easily over Belgium’s Sofia Costoulas, 6-1 6-0 for a place in round two.
Latvia’s Kamilla Bartone has experienced Junior Grand Slam success previously, having won the doubles at the US Open alongside Russia’s Oksana Selekhmeteva in September.
As revealed in her ITF blog, Bartone believed the Australian Open would be her last Junior Grand Slam and, intended on going out on a high but the 17-year-old, seeded No 3, crashed out prematurely to Russia’s Diana Shnaider, 7-5 7-5, in round one.
Czech Republic’s Linda Fruhvirtova, 14, meanwhile, is the 5th seed, who was described by her nation’s captain as a ‘Pit bull from the baseline’ after she guided Czech Republic to victory at the ITF World Junior Tennis Finals in Prostejov in August, failed to get her quest for a maiden Junior Grand Slam title started by losing to Poland’s Weronika Baszak, 7-6(7) 6-3 in her opener.