Melbourne | McHugh through to quarters in AO Juniors
Britain’s hope in the Australian Open boys’ competition, Aidan McHugh, continued his fine run to the quarter-finals, posting an impressive 7-6(1) 6-3 upset of the 14th-seeded Ondrej Styler from the Czech Republic.
Prior to this week the 17-year old Glaswegian had only played two Grand Slam junior singles matches, and both were on home turf at Wimbledon, where he went out in the first round in 2016 and reached the last 16 last year.
McHugh, enjoying his first visit to Australia, has trumped his previous results and now standing between him and the semis is Australian wild card Rinky Hijikata, who ousted Drew Baird of USA, 6-4 6-3.
While McHugh said neither Styler or he served well in the match, he believed his movement around the court helped him to victory as well as adjusting his tactics to play a smart match as the encounter progressed.
“First quarter-final for me,” McHugh said. “I’ll try to get another win tomorrow.”
Motivated by the semi-final run of fellow Briton Kyle Edmund, McHugh is trying to follow the British No 2’s progress without staying up too late.
McHugh is represented by 77 Sports Management, the sports management agency that Andy Murray set-up in November and has a close relationship with three-time Grand Slam champion, who is his mentor.
“I’ve always been careful not to rush into things but joining 77 Sports Management has been very good, obviously with the connection with Andy,” McHugh said in an interview.
“He’s so helpful and he’ll make sure that some of the mistakes he had when he was younger, with agencies and things, he’s trying to help me to make sure I don’t make any of those mistakes.
“I don’t worry about anything. Only thing I worry about is my tennis. He’s been sending me fire emojis after each match, and just saying, ‘Well done.’ He’s right on it and watching my results.
“It kind of keeps me on my toes. We talk a lot about football, and we have a Fantasy Football thing and he gives me a lot of stick for that.”
Murray is no longer in Melbourne, having flown home after having successful hip surgery here, but his brother, Jamie, has been out to watch McHugh play during the tournament.
McHugh’s coach is Toby Smith, who happens to be the brother of Great Britain’s Davis Cup captain, Leon Smith.
His next challenge is the Aussie, Hijikata, who continued his dream run by booking a spot in the final eight with his straight sets victory over Baird.
The Sydney native looked right at home on Show Court 3, using his speed and consistency to wear down his opponent in their first meeting.
As the first set was seemingly destined for a tiebreak, the Australian clinched the crucial break in the 10th game to take the set before racing through the second to claim one of the best victories of his career.
Hijikata was delighted with his performance, especially when told he only committed 5 unforced errors in the first set.
“I’m pretty stoked to get through, I thought I performed really well today and I can’t wait to get back out there,” he said.
“I tried to be pretty aggressive today and applying myself point in, point out which is what I’ve been working on. I think I did that pretty well today and the consistency was pretty good.
“I didn’t know that (five unforced errors in a set), that’s probably one of the best matches I’ve played. I don’t think I’ve ever done that before.”
It was a good day for the rest of the seeds, with top two Timofey Skatov and Marko Miladinovic both progressing through to the quarter-finals.
Top seed Skatov from Russia overcame a sluggish start to defeat Turkey’s Yanki Erel 0-6 7-5 6-3, while the Serbian second seed Miladinovic won in straight sets 6-3 6-4 over German Rudolf Molleker.
American No 7 seed Sebastian Korda also progressed, 20 years after his father Petr won the men’s singles in Melbourne.
He even performed one of Korda Senior’s famous scissor kicks after claiming victory over South African Philip Henning.
Korda’s Mum is former tennis pro Regina Rajchrtova, and sisters Jessica and Nelly are world-ranked golfers, the former having won the 2012 Australian Open and now competing on the LPGA Tour.
While Sebastian played ice hockey as a youngster, it was after a visit to watch Czech Radek Stepanek, then coached by his Dad, play at the US Open that the then 10-year-old decided he was playing the wrong game.
Yet it has taken until the Florida-born-and-raised Korda’s final year of under-age tennis for him to make it to Australia, having chosen to stay at home and play some Futures events in 2017 instead.
Overseeing things here is USTA coach, Dean Goldfine, although his father is his main coach and the one who pulls the strings.
“It’s an awesome experience, definitely, being my first time in Australia and then coming here and seeing my Dad’s poster on the wall when he won it. It’s pretty cool,’’ said the 17-year-old, whose introductory Melbourne Park tour, including the photo-studded hallways, was led by Stepanek and IMG agent Patricio Apey.
He resembles his father in both angular face and lean-limbed body, but is two centimetres taller, and a right-hander, without the 90s hairstyle, and with a two-fisted backhand he favours, plus an attacking all-court game.
“I try to take the ball pretty aggressive and come into the net a lot, I try doing anything I can.’’
A young man of Czech parents who has lived his entire life in the US, Korda is and sounds American, and choices were many.
Why not follow his sisters by whacking around a small, dimpled, white ball?
“I play a lot of golf, but, I don’t know, it’s just a little bit too boring me for, a little bit too slow. I like to run and be active,’’ he laughs.
“I played ice hockey until I was 10 years old and then I switched over to tennis after watching Radek. We never really talk about it, but he’s definitely one of my role models and my inspiration to play tennis.’’
The departure of Henning ended the hopes of the South African delegation to Melbourne, who had endured the early exits of Kevin Anderson and Raven Klaasen at the Australian Open last week.
From Bloemfontein, Henning was part of Team South Africa at the AUSC Region 5 Games (U20) in Luanda, Angola late in 2016.
Henning upset ninth seed and No 8 seed, Thiago Seyboth Wild of Brazil, 6-4 6-4, in the second round after, in the opening round, beating George Loffhagen of Great Britain in a tight two-setter 7-6 (5) 7-5.
Watching Henning from the side-lines were two former South African greats, Wayne Ferreira and Jeff Coetzee, who both are impressed by the 17-year old.
Fifth seed Hugo Gaston from France was victorious after his opponent, 12th seed Alexey Zakharov of Russia retired due to injury, while No 6 Chun Hsin Tseng from Chinese Taipei defeated Brazil’s Igor Gimenez, 6-2 7-6(5).
Unseeded Ray Ho from Taiwan rounded out the final eight with a 6-1 3-6 7-5 win over Pole Wojciech Marek.
In the girls’ singles, the top two seeds both claimed tight three-set victories with No 1 Xinyu Wang defeating Thailand’s Mananchaya Sawangkaew, 6-4 4-6 6-2, while second seed En Liang overcame No 16 Kamilla Rakhimova, 2-6 6-4 6-4.
Fifth seed Naho Sato was also pushed by No 10 seed Lulu Sun, but emerged victorious, 7-6(5) 6-7(5) 6-1.
No 9 Xiyu Wang upset seventh seed Alexa Noel from the USA, 6-3 7-5, while Latvian 13th seed Daniela Vismane claimed a three-set victory over Russian Daria Frayman, 3-6 6-3 6-2.
American Dalayna Hewitt was another winner on day 10, overcoming the last Australian in the draw, Amber Marshall, 7-5 6-2.
The 17-year-old’s serve and movement were in full swing, and the leg issues that caused her to pull out of a lead up event in Traralgon are all but gone, a worrying sign for her opponents.
“The leg is good, it’s actually improving a lot,” Hewitt said. “The taping is getting good, I’m taking all of my ice baths. I’m taking care of it and getting treatment and it’s getting better.”
Elsewhere in the draw, Frenchwoman Clara Burel defeated 12th seed Elysia Bolton in three, while Elisabetta Cocciaretto was victorious over Hong Yi Cody Wong.