Paris | Fernandez and Rune favoured to win junior titles
The finalists in the junior boys and girls singles championships were decided on Friday in appalling weather conditions, with the semi-finals scheduled early as a further deluge of rain was forecast for later in the day.
The rains, however, never really came, driven away by high winds that made playing tennis in Paris very tricky indeed for the game’s future stars.
The weather has been disrupting the schedule for days and, to catch up up on Thursday, top seed Leylah Annie Fernandez played 3 matches, including doubles, winning both her singles matches for the loss of just 2 games to reach the girls semi-finals for a second straight year, and setting up a showdown with No 3 seed Maria Camila Osorio Serrano.
The Colombian had also played three times on Thursday, but was forced to retire during her doubles after injuring her hand in a fall.
She was able to play on Friday and gave it her all, calling for the doctor after the first set with her backhand causing her pain, and she faced an uphill struggle against her Canadian opponent, falling 6-2 6-4.
Fernandez, who is 16 and reached the Australian Open girls final in January and won the Grade 1 warmup in Belgium last week, has been dominating her opponents all week, with her 7-5 6-3 first round win over Maria Tkacheva of Russia the closest match she has had in this tournament so far.
She became the first Canadian to reach either junior final in Paris since Felix Auger-Aliassime in 2016 and only the 5th in the history of Roland Garros.
In the final Fernandez will meet the No 8 seed Emma Navarro of the USA, who had to come back from a set down before defeating China’s Qinwen Zheng, 2-6 6-1 6-4.
When she faces the American in Saturday’s final, she will be bidding to become hrt nation’s first junior Grand Slam champion in Paris in what she expects to be her last junior tournament.
“It could be my last junior Grand Slam, but you never know,” said Fernandez, who will not turn 17 until the US Open.
By then she expects to have played a string of ITF World Tennis Tour events in Canada, the W25 tournaments in Winnipeg and Gatineua, the W80 in Granby and the W100 in Vancouver, while holding out hope of a spot at Rogers Cup.
“I’m 100% sure I’m not going to be playing Wimbledon,” confirmed Fernandez, who also reached the Australian Open final in January.
“But maybe I’ll play US Open because it’s close to home, and hopefully my little sister Bianca can qualify too, and we can play doubles together.”
Unlike Osorio Serrano, Fernandez showed no ill effects after her marathon on Thursday that saw her arrive on site at 9am and leave court for the last time shortly before 8pm.
“I just thought, take it one match at a time,” she said. “I saw the schedule said I had three matches, and I reminded myself: it’s tennis. I love playing tennis, I love playing points, and this is supposed to be fun, so I set out to go out there and have fun.”
Whatever the result against Navarro, Fernandez feels the time is right to move into the professional ranks.
“I’ll be sad that I’m leaving the juniors as I’ll miss some friends,” she admits. “But I’ll be following my dream.
“I want to be a professional, to be No 1 in the world, and to win some WTA and Grand Slam titles. My goal is to come back here to Roland Garros but in the women’s draw, maybe in qualifying.”
For Navarro, her first Roland Garros campaign has seen her build on previous junior Grand Slam experiences, having reached the semi-finals of the US Open girls’ doubles in 2018, and going one round better at the Australian Open in January.
“It definitely helps,” said the 18-year-old New York native. “Playing the doubles semis at the US Open I felt out of my element – it was like, ‘woah’.
“So even though it was doubles, it helps me to be more comfortable in the singles too.”
Navarro, who is also still alive in the doubles draw in Paris with Chloe Beck, found the going tough early on against Zheng, the No 5 seed pinning her back with her flat, powerful drives in conditions that made her patient style difficult to execute.
“It was pretty tough,” she admitted. “The wind was going in all different directions and we had spurts of rain throughout the match, but you just accept it, play through it, and it is what it is.
“Going into the tournament I knew I was good enough to get here, but I wasn’t really expecting it.
“I took one match at a time, and especially in this match one point at a time. I lost the first set pretty badly – I got pushed back a bit by her pace and presence on court. But I was able to push back against it after that.”
The 18-year-old had lost her previous 2 meetings with Zheng, at last year’s Eddie Herr and Orange Bowl, and it looked like Navarro’s fate might go the same way when she quickly dropped the first set 6-2.
She rebounded in the second, though, winning it 6-1, and was tougher on the key points in the tight third set.
At 4-all, Navarro converted her 3rd break point to give herself the opportunity to serve for the match at 5-4.
She had to save a break point in that game, at 30-40, but won the final 3 points of the match for the victory, 6-4.
Navarro and Fernandez have not played before.
Denmark could lay claim to its second junior Grand Slam title of 2019, with Holger Vitus Nodskov Rune looking to follow in the footsteps of Australian Open champion Clara Tauson after booking his place in the boys’ singles final.
The 16-year-old downed American No 10 seed Martin Damm, 6-4 6-2, to set up a showdown with Damm’s compatriot and doubles partner Toby Kodat, who beat Japan’s Shintaro Mochizuki, 6-3 6-4.
For the first time since 1989, an American boy and an American girl have reached the French Open final in the same year.
Unseeded Kodat, who is 16 years old and is playing his first French Open, has yet to drop a set this week.
No 7 seed Rune is also 16 and has made it through 5 matches without loss of a set either on his French Open debut.
Rune and Kodat have split two Grade 1 matches this year, both on clay, with Kodat winning in 3 sets back in February in Brazil and Rune winning April’s meeting in France in straight sets.
The doubles had a crowded schedule of quarter and semi-finals played on Friday thanks to inclement weather.
In the boys’ quarter-finals, an all-unseeded encounter saw Andrew Paulson & Eric Vanshelboim defeat the French combination of Arthur Cazaux & Harold Mayot, 6-7(5) 6-4 [10-5].
Matheus Pucinelli de Almeida & Thiago Agustin Tirante defeated the No 4 seeds Zane Khan & Bu Yunchaokete, 6-3 6-2, while Flavio Cobolli & Dominic Stricker beat Martin Damm & Toby Kodat, 6-4 6-4.
The No 8 seeds Sergey Fomin & Gauthier Onclin saw off Pablo Lllamas Ruiz & Juan Bautista Torres, 7-6(0), 6-2.
The final will be an all-unseeded contest.
In the semis, Pucinelli de Almeida & Tirante beat Paulson & Vanshelboim, 6-1 6-0, while Cobolli and Stricker defeated Fomin & Onclin, 6-3 6-1.
In the girls’ quarter-finals, the No 1 seeds Natsumi Kawaguchi & Diane Parry dismissed Hurricane Tyra Black & Lea Ma, seeded 5th, 6-4 6-2.
Alina Charaeva & Anastasia Tikhonova, the No 4 seeds, prevailed over Kamilla Bartone & Oksana Selekhmeteva, 4-6 6-4 [10-7].
Meanwhile, Navarro had her second win of the day over Qinwen Zheng, pairing with Chloe Beck to dispatch Zheng & Taisya Pachkaleva, 6-4 6-4.
That left the No 7 seeds Adrienn Nagy & Sang Hee Park to beat Sada Nahimana & Hong Yi Cody Wong, 6-4 6-4 in the last quarter-final.
The semi-finals were halted by the weather, with Beck & Navarro leading Nagy & Park, 6-3 1-0, when play was called for the day, and Kawaguchi & Parry’s meeting with Charaeva and Tikhonova yet to start.
The winner of that match will play No 4 seeds Alina Charaeva and Anastasia Tikhonova in the final.