The junior events at Grand Slams tend to be a bit topsy-turvy and the US Open is proving no different.
A day after the top girls seed and the French Open boys champion exited the Junior Championships, top seed and Wimbledon boys champion Shintaro Mochizuki of Japan joined them on the sidelines, when Alejo Lingua Lavallen of Argentina came from behind to post a 4-6 7-6(6) 6-2 victory on Wednesday.
Seedings tend to be an indicator of how a player has done prior to the event at hand, but in no way serves as a guarantee as to who will win a match.
There is certainly great respect for those who have achieved, but the competition at every level of the game is now deeper and broader, and the juniors is no exception.
So it should not be considered any type of shock that the top seeds in the junior boys’ and girls’ event at the US Open, as well as the second seeds, have all been ushered to the exit.
On Tuesday, girls’ No 1 Emma Navarro of USA fell to 33rd-ranked Oksana Selekhmeteva of Russia, 6-4 4-6 6-4, in the 2nd round.
Also gone are 2nd seed Holger Vitus Nodskov Rune of Denmark, the reigning Roland Garros boys’ champion, and the No 2 seed Diane Parry of France in the girls competition.
The 18-year-old Lingua, ranked 39, had not won a Grand Slam singles match until his first round win on Monday, and all his previous success on the ITF Junior Circuit had come on clay, but he wore World No 1 Mochizuki down after saving a match point at 5-6 in the 2nd set tiebreak in a second-round encounter.
Mochizuki did receive on-court treatment for a left leg injury that started to bother him around the second game of the third set, but by then Lingua had the momentum in his corner.
“It was an incredible match and I’m so happy now,” Lingua said. “He’s No 1 in the world.
“In the second set I played better and in the third set he seemed hurt, so I was sorry for him because he is my friend, but I played good to win the match.
“In the court I don’t think about this [he’s my friend]. I think you have to play in the match.”
Lingua fell behind 2-0 in the third set, but after he broke Mochizuki in the third game, the 16-year-old requested the medical timeout, with cramping setting in.
“He can’t run in the 3rd set, but I play good and I’m happy for this,” Lingua said.
Lingua knew he had to keep his focus on the match, despite Mochizuki’s physical problems, and the fact that they are friends.
“You know that he can’t run, so it’s like, I have to hit him the ball,” Lingua said. “But on the court today, I was like, no thinking about anything but the match, and I’m so happy now. He’s No. 1 in the world, it’s incredible.”
Lingua arrived in New York without a singles win to his credit in 2 previous attempts but corrected that shortcoming by moving into the 3rd-round where he will play 14th seed Valentin Royer of France, who dispatched of Czech qualifier Andrew Paulson, 6-2 6-4, in the second round.
His last junior tournament, Lingua will now move on to playing Futures and Challengers, but admits that decision could be subjected to change dependent on his outcome in New York.
“If I won here, or made the semi-finals, maybe I would gain entry into the Junior Masters,” said Lingua, of the now renamed prestigious ITF World Tennis Tour Junior Finals, to be held from 23-27 October in Chengdu, China.
For young players having a smart and capable coaching voice offering guidance is important and the left-hander trains with former World No 8 Alberto Mancini of Argentina.
“I feel very good with him,” said of Mancini. “It works.”
Lingua believes being left-handed is more notable because of the success of Rafael Nadal, who is in the hunt for a 19th career Grand Slam trophy here at the US Open.
“They talk about lefty-handers because of Rafa, who is incredible,” he said. “But for me it is the same because I’m always left-handed.
“And for me there’s also [fellow Argentine] Guido Pella, who plays lefty and is now playing so good.”
Of course, for someone from Argentina there is one southpaw who reigns supreme among all others, Guillermo Vilas.
The first South American man to ever win a Grand Slam title, Vilas won four majors in his career: the French and US Opens in 1977, and the Australian Open in 1978 and ’79.
“Ah, Guillermo Vilas, the best,” said Lingua, smiling. “Yeah, I know him. I drink a coffee with him one time.
“It was incredible to drink a coffee with him because he was the best in the world and a monster.
“We talked about my tournaments and my tennis. And yeah, yeah, I practiced with him in Buenos Aires.”
Wednesday delivered two further upsets in the boys’ draw, with 6th seed Toby Alex Kodat of USA and 7th seed Harold Mayot of France departing.
Kodat went out to qualifier Milan Welte of Germany, 6-2 7-6(4), while Mayot was bounced by Tristan Schoolkate of Australia, 6-3 6-4.
Welte was still on the alternate list for qualifying until early last week.
“I was in the alternates until the Sunday before,” said the 18-year-old from Saarbrucken, Germany, who is currently ranked outside the Top 100 of the ITF junior rankings. “On Monday, I came into the qualifying and we booked a flight.
“It was lucky and of course I’m pretty surprised that I’m in the round of 16.”
Coached primarily by his father at one of the DTB’s 16 national training centres, Welte had to come from 4-1 and 5-3 down in the second set.
“Every service game was close, every time 30-all or deuce,” said Welte, who came back from 0-40 serving at 5-6 to force the tiebreak.
“It was a little bit lucky that I won the return game at 5-3 and from this point, I played better again, and I served pretty well.”
Only two of the top 8 seeds remain in the boys draw going into Thursday’s round of 16: No 4 seed Jonas Forejtek of the Czech Republic and No 8 seed Emilio Nava.
Other 2nd round winners in the boys’ draw included No 4 Jonas Forejtek of Czech Republic , who took out Luca Nardi of Italy, 6-3 6-2, while No 9 Gauthier Onclin of Belgium defeated William Grand of USA, 6-2 6-3, No 11 Brandon Nakashima of USA overcame Leandro Riedi of Switzerland, 6-4 3-6 6-2, and No 16 Peter Makk of Hungary dispatched Govind Nanda of USA, 7-6(2) 6-4.
Boys Doubles action continued on Wednesday, with American team Eliot Spizzirri & Tyler Zink battling hard to overcome their opponents, Australian Stefan Storch & Ukrainian Eric Vanshelboim, in a match tiebreak, 6-7 6-1 [10-5]; and Tyler Zink & Eliot Spizzirri, Nakashima, who is playing with Valentin Royer of France, and Govind Nanda, with Canada’s Liam Draxl all coming through.
Nanda & Draxl reached the Wimbledon boys doubles final in July.
In the girls singles, 3 US girls have reached the round of 16, including No 13 seed Abigail Forbes, qualifier Alexandra Yepifanova and wild card Reese Brantmeier.
Brantmeier, who earned her wild card by winning the USTA 16s National title last month in San Diego, might be starting to feel a little homesick if it weren’t for all her success here in New York.
“I haven’t been home in probably over a month now,” said Brantmeier, who lives in Whitewater, Wisconsin. “I went down to DC to train with the USTA for a while and then I came back for this tournament.”
Brantmeier was given a wild card into the US Open women’s qualifying over two weeks ago, and she took a set from former WTA No 55 Denisa Allertova of the Czech Republic in her first round match, a result that buoyed her confidence for this event.
“It was fantastic to see that level, because I’ve never played at that high of a level before and it’s where I hope to be when I’m older,” said Brantmeier, who turns 15 next month.
“Now I have a really clear picture of what I want to work on and improve so I can be back there…I was out for a couple of months at the start of the year because I broke my wrist, but since I’ve been back, I’ve been improving at an insane level now.
“I’ve been playing some of my best tennis, and that’s so great to see.”
In her 7-6(4) 6-7(5) 6-4 win over Marta Custic of Spain, Brantmeier had to overcome the frustration of letting 2 match points slip away serving at 6-5, 40-15 in the 2nd set, and carefully nurture an early break in the 3rd.
“I like when it’s close and I’m not getting broken a lot,” said Brantmeier, who saved the only 2 break points she faced in the 3rd set serving at 2-1. “But also it’s tough, because you know any slip-up, you might lose the set for that.
“You really have to stay focused every single point.”
Brantmeier, who is instantly recognisable on any court with her knee high socks, will face No 15 seed Polina Kudermetova of Russia, who outlasted Savannah Broadus 7-6(5) 6-7(3) 7-5 in Wednesday’s 2nd round.
Other 2nd-round winners in the girls’ draw included No 4 Maria Camila Osorio Serrano of Colombia, who defeated Katie Volynets of USA, 6-4 6-4, while No 7 Kamila Bartone of Latvia took out Elvina Kalieva of USA, 6-0 6-1, No 12 Sohyun Park of Korea defeated Ana Geller of Argentina, 6-4 6-4, No. 13 Abigail Forbes of USA beat Bai Zhuoxuan of China, 6-3 6-4, and No. 15 Polina Kudermetova of Russia overcame Savannah Broadus of USA, 7-6(5) 6-7(3) 7-5.
American 17-year-old Volynets, who took on Bianca Andreescu in the first round of the women’s draw as a wild card, fell to Osorio Serrano, 6-4 6-4, after having had a break lead in each set but unable to sustain it, committing too many errors while the Colombian hit 24 winners and defended well.
Osorio Serrano already has plenty of experience playing in the biggest tennis tournaments in the world but is more than a little starstruck over Roger Federer.
“Roger Federer [has been] my idol since I can remember, when I was 6 years old and started playing,”she said on Wednesday. “The first time I saw him was two years ago at Wimbledon.
I was looking for him for three days in the whole club. I was walking around [the day I was] playing, and I couldn’t see him. I was like, ‘I give up. If I see him, I’ll ask for the picture.’
“I finished my match, I won, I took a shower and everything, and then when I was going out, he was just right there taking pictures with all the fans.”
“I just started screaming and crying, and I just went back, like, ‘Oh my god, Roger Federer is right there!'” she added. “I was like, ‘Cami. Relax. Relax,’ and I went back and I asked for the picture.
“The first picture that I took, I was crying, so I’m like, ‘Now, I need to take another one.’
“The next year, last year, I saw him again in practice, but I said, ‘No, it’s fine. It’s normal again,’ because I’m going to see him again.
“Then I walked, and I saw him and I was shaking, like, ‘Can I take a picture? You. Picture. Me?’ He was so nice. He took the picture, and this one was better, much better.”
Even though she is playing in her 9th junior Slam, the prospect of walking the same halls as the game’s greats is all still surreal.
“Every time I see these idols for me, I loved them since I was like a kid, and now I see them and I can’t believe it. But this year, I was focused,” she said. “Like all the girls, I want to win the tournament, but I’m more focused on enjoying every match.
“It’s my last tournament as a junior, so I have the last chance to enjoy every moment on the court. I just want to be relaxed and do my game.”
The 17-year-old Colombian is looking to win her first Grand Slam title in New York in her final months of junior eligibility, having reached the semi-finals at the US Open last year and at Roland Garros this year.
A two-time champion on the ITF women’s circuit this season, the teen boasts a WTA ranking of No 271, and thrilled her home fans this year by reaching the quarter-finals of a WTA event in Bogota in April, before losing to eventual champion Amanda Anisimova in three sets.
“I’m just really proud of myself, and I really believe that I can do better,” she continued. “I just need to work hard, and maybe one day, I can be here, playing these big tournaments as a pro.
“WTA is totally different. They know what they’re doing. They never give up.
“They’re always fighting every point, so you need to be focused every second. If you maybe lose a point, then you can lose five in a row. I think that’s the big difference.”
It is all a learning process for Osorio Serrano, who goes by ‘Cami’, and is receiving guidance from former Top 50 player Alejandro Falla and other coaches back home.
While she chases her dreams in the Big Apple, the city that she says she ‘loves the most’, Osorio Serrano has no plans to add to her celebrity selfie collection, which are on hold.
“At Roland Garros and this tournament, I said, ‘I’m not going to take a picture. I’m going to be focused, be focused on [trying to] win the tournament because I’m going to be there one day, so it has to be normal for me,” she said.
The Girls Doubles quarter-finals are set, with three US girls still in the running for a title, including Wimbledon champions Broadus & Forbes, who saved 2 match points in the match tiebreak of their 6-3 3-6 [14-12] win over Robin Montgomery & Kudermetova on Wednesday evening.
Alexa Noel is playing with Diane Parry of France and the top seeds won in straight sets, rolling past their opponents, Slovakia’s Romana Cisovska & Russia’s Anastasia Tikhonova, in 55 minutes, two minutes shorter than their first-round match, 6-2 6-2.