Melbourne | McHugh makes AO Juniors semi-final
Aidan McHugh has become the first British boy to reach the semi-finals of a junior Grand Slam since the young Kyle Edmund at Wimbledon in 2013, with a convincing victory over Rinky Hijikata at the Australian Open.
The Glaswegian, who is mentored by Andy Murray, beat the Australian wild card, 6-4 6-2, to move into the last four, and said afterwards that Edmund’s deep run had given him inspiration.
There have been lean times among the boys for Britain since Edmund made the last four of the juniors, so it is fitting that in the tournament where the British No 2 has made his senior major breakthrough, another young talent is emerging.
“I practised with Kyle just once for a couple of hours,” McHugh told reporters.
“He’s quite a quiet guy but I know he works really hard and ticks all the right boxes for his training and things. And the way he carries himself is really good.
“He’s finally getting some rewards at the high end of slams. He doesn’t want to keep cruising at top 50, he wants to keep trying to get higher. So it’s really good to see him doing well. Obviously it makes me want to do well as well.”
McHugh, 17, is relatively short at 5ft 9in but hopes to grow a couple more inches, and he has found himself playing some big servers during this junior tournament, Jaimee Floyd Angele of France being a point in case measuring 6ft 9in.
“I’ve not really had a big growth spurt yet,” he said. “I’ve just been growing little bits at a time.
“My dad is 5ft 11in, my brother is actually a little bit taller. He’s 20 now. Maybe I will get a bit like my brother. He’s really strong as well. It doesn’t matter to be honest if I’m not as tall as the others. I just need to be really quick and maybe use a bit more energy than the other guys.”
In this quarter-final encounter, however, it was more about the quick feet than big serves.
McHugh plays with a single-handed backhand and has an excellent volley, which came in handy as he won 13 of his 15 net points.
“It was good. I didn’t play that amazing, like my best match, but circumstances and things, sometimes it’s hard to play an amazing match,” he said.
“And he [Hijikata] plays a lot different to the other guys, the giants that I’ve been playing. I stayed pretty level the whole time so I was pretty happy with just how I was going about it.
“We’ve had quite a few good girls in the juniors. We’ve had good boys in the juniors but maybe not done as well at the slams. It’s nice to do well and I’ll try and keep going.”
McHugh, who is part of an encouraging trio of British boys along with George Loffhagen and Jack Draper, has a good all-court game, is a fine athlete and is being coached by Toby Smith, brother of the British Davis Cup captain Leon Smith.
Both players were unseeded heading into the match on Thursday and had never met before, meaning they would have to problem-solve quickly in order to gain an upper hand.
McHugh began well, using his power and prowess around the court to break the Australian to love in the third game.
Hijikata, 16, admitted the power of his opponent was key to the result and that while he played well he still needs to work on his consistency.
“I thought I played a pretty good match, I thought his level was really good, I was a bit up and down and I think that was the biggest thing,” the Aussie said later.
“I’m just going to have to go back and work on maintaining a high level in matches and then I’ll be able to hang in.
“He was hitting pretty good forehands from everywhere on the court. He’s pretty tough to play, he even got around his backhand quickly a lot. He played really well so credit to him.”
McHugh raced out to a 4-2 lead before the New South Welshman managed to claw his way back into the set, with the Briton conceding his serve in the eighth game to level proceedings.
The Glaswegian, however, turned the screw in the Australian’s next service game to break back and clinch the opener in a little over half an hour.
The second set began evenly in the early stages, before McHugh again began clubbing the ball to great effect.
Hijikata fought as hard as he could with his grinding skills on full display, but he was unable to work his way out of trouble with McHugh producing some sublime groundstrokes, breaking in the third and the seventh games en route to victory.
In November, McHugh joined 77, the management agency formed by Murray, and named after the 77-year gap between male British Wimbledon champions.
After his third-round victory over 14th seed Ondrej Styler, McHugh explained that, “The main thing was the connection I’ve got with Andy and how helpful he is. Having his experience is really good. He’s sending fire emojis after each match and saying ‘Well done’.
“Jamie Murray has been coming out to watch as well. It’s nice having that support. It keeps you on your toes, that they’re watching.
“Kyle speaks about it as well, how helpful it is to be around someone who’s at that level in the sport. When we were in London, Andy came and watched me play one of my matches and just showed me a few ideas on return position and things like that.
“Off the court, we talk a lot about football. We have a fantasy football league and I get a lot of stick. He’s really funny to be around – relaxed, very normal off court. It’s a shame some people over the years think he’s not as upbeat as he is, when you’re just talking to him.”
McHugh will play the sixth seed, Chun Hsin Tseng of Chinese Taipei, in Friday’s semi-final, and he has every reason to be confident having beaten him in last week’s warm-up tournament.
Sixth seed Tseng took out the top seed Timofey Skatov, causing the upset of the day, coming back from a set down to overrun the Russian 2-6 6-3 6-2 and book his spot in the semi-finals..
The other semi-final will pit Sebastian Korda, son of the former Australian Open champion Petr Korda, against No 2 seed Marko Miladinovic.
The 17-year-old Serbian not only had to recover from a one-set deficit, but had to hit the re-set button after he surrendered a 4-1 lead in the third set.
“It was a very tough match, 7-5 in the third, and I was 4-1 up with two breaks in the third,” Miladinovic said.
“Then he was 5-4 up and 0-30. I was just trying to stay focus and positive to play my best. And I’m very happy to be through to the semis.”
Even the final game presented a test as Miladinovic had to save one break point at 30-40 before winning the next three points to send Gaston packing.
A native of Belgrade, the Serbian trains at Janko Tipsarevic’s Tennis Academy and is represented by Tipsarevic’s management company.
An only child, who says he doesn’t feel he’s missed out by not having brothers or sisters, Miladinovic first held a racket when he was just two.
Back then he would go to the tennis courts with his parents, who own a computer software company, and they would play for an hour.
When his parents were done playing his father would hit tennis balls to him for a few minutes.
Currently the second-ranked junior boy in the world, Miladinovic says he relies on his backhand and mentality for the game to see him through matches.
He will now meet America’s Korda, who progressed with a 6-2 6-3 win over Ray Ho from Chinese Taipei.
In the girls’ draw the top two seeds remain on track to meet in the final after they both won tight three-set battles.
Top seed Xinyu Wang was tested by Japan’s Naho Sato but progressed 5-7 6-3 6-1, while Chinese Taipei’s No 2 seed En Liang was victorious in her third three-set match at the tournament.
Liang edged Chinese ninth seed Xiyu Wang 6-4 4-6 6-3 in almost two hours to reach her first Grand Slam semi-final.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “My leg feels a little bit tired, but it’s good.”
After watching her compatriot Su-Wei Hsieh reach the fourth round in women’s singles action, Liang hopes to one day emulate those efforts.
“She was great, her results give me that goal as well,” she said.
In other results, American Dalayna Hewitt suffered a 7-6(4) 6-2 loss to Frenchwoman Clara Burel, while Italian Elisabetta Cocciaretto upset 13th seed Daniela Vismane, 6-3 6-4.