Paris | Gauff, one of the future stars to keep an eye on
There is a 15-year-old in Paris, Cori ‘CoCo’ Gauff, who is writing history at Roland Garros as the youngest player on the WTA ranking list and is also among the best juniors in the world.
She is a name to watch, coming from the juniors ranks and now making a big impact on the main tour.
Born in 2004, Gauff has already pushed the age limits and was ranked inside the top-900 on the WTA ranking list after winning two matches back in May and June, passing 3 qualifying rounds at both events against much older and more experienced rivals to become the first player of her generation with professional triumphs under her belt.
The American was the player to beat in juniors, despite being the youngest player in every draw she entered, competing in just 12 junior events and becoming World No 1 back in July.
At the age of 13, Cori was the US Open finalist in 2017, losing the title match to Amanda Anisimova and forging the way for an even better 2018 when she continued to amaze.
Arriving in Paris to compete in only her 8th junior event on the ITF level, Gauff went all the way to lift the title last year, and become the fourth-youngest Roland Garros champion since Martina Hingis, Jennifer Capriati and Gabriela Sabatini, despite being, by far, the youngest player in the draw and the only one from her generation.
She was the player to beat in Roehampton as well, conquering the junior throne at the age of 14 and reaching the quarter-final at Wimbledon, US Open and Mundial Juvenil Yucatan to keep herself inside the top-3.
Gauff closed the historic season at the Orange Bowl where she won the U12 title just two years ago.
Following her fantastic improvement in the last year or so, Gauff was the top seed and the favourite for the U18 title and she didn’t fail to deliver, beating the 2nd seed Qinwen Zheng, 6-1 3-6 6-4, to wrap up another big title and close her junior career for the time being.
Scoring 10 professional wins in 2019 so far, the most important one in Miami, her first on the WTA level, Gauff is now ranked inside the top-300, and received a wild card for the qualifying draw at Roland Garros where she won the junior title just a year ago.
In the first round, the American defeated Ankita Raina from India, 6-4 6-4, in an hour and 24 minutes to become the youngest player with Grand Slam win in either the main draw or qualifying rounds since Martina Hingis in 1995.
Although she lost in the second round to Kaja Juvan, the No 21 seed, 6-3 6-3, Gauff is a player to watch but you won’t be able to see her in action in the Juniors in Paris this year because, despite her tender years, she has already moved, on.
Instead there is a new crop of girls and boys from which our future champions may well emerge, treading in the footsteps of Gauff and Tseng Chun-Hsin, last year’s boys champion. Not all, of course, will make it.
With current World No 1 junior Clara Tauson ruled out with an arm injury, Canada’s Leylah Annie Fernandez is the tournament top seed in the girls’ singles draw.
The 16-year-old, who lost to Tauson in the Australian Open final back in January, completed the perfect lead-in with victory at the J1 Charleroi-Marcinelle, beating France’s Carole Monnet in the final.
Fernandez shares the top half of the draw with fellow single-digit seeds Colombia’s Maria Camila Osorio Serrano, American Hurricane Tyra Black and Japan’s Natsumi Kawaguchi.
Also in the top half of the girls’ draw is American No 14 seed Elizabeth Mandlik, daughter of Czech four-time Grand Slam champion Hana Mandlikova, who won the girls’ event in Paris in 1978.
Burundi’s Sada Nahimana, who reached the final of the prestigious JA Milan in the lead-up to Roland Garros, is also among the top-half seeds, with a No 12 next to her name.
The bottom half features Milan champion Alexa Noel, the No 4 seed, who will face a tricky opening encounter with Charleroi finalist Monnet in the first round.
France’s Diane Parry, seeded No 2, last week becoming the youngest player to win a Roland Garros main-draw match in a decade with victory over Vera Lapko.
It is Parry’s first junior tournament since reaching the Australian Open semi-finals, having won a W25 title on the ITF World Tennis Tour and broken into the world’s top 500 since January.
She is also still in action in the women’s doubles draw, alongside compatriot Fiona Ferro.
China’s Qinwen Zheng, American Emma Navarro, Chinese Taipei’s Joanna Garland, and Kamila Bartone of Latvia, coached by the mother of compatriot and former Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko, round out the top-10 seeds in the lower section.
In the boys’ draw, Australian Open champion Lorenzo Musetti arrives in Paris as the top seed, with JA Milan boys’ champion Jonas Forejtek the No2 2 seed.
Valentin Royer could await Forejtek in the second round should both advance.
The world No 33 is the highest ranked of the 10 French players in the boys’ draw, one of 3 direct-acceptance entries along with 7 wild cards and a qualifier.
Also among the top-10 seeds in the bottom half are American Emilio Nava, the Australian Open finalist in both singles and doubles, Bulgaria’s Adrian Andreev, Bu Yunchaokete of China and Otto Virtanen of Finland.
In the top half, Musetti is joined by Holger Vitus Nodskov Rune, the Danish winner at J1 Santa Croce, American duo Brandon Nakashima and Martin Damm, and Thiago Agustin Tirante of Argentina.
Play in the Juniors Championships begins on Sunday, but with no British representation in either draw after the country’s sole entrant, Harry Wendelken lost to Karlis Ozolins from the Netherlands in the first round of qualifying, 6-2 3-6 6-2.
This is in contrast to the 21 Americans included in the main draws – 11 boys and 10 girls.
The US girls have won the past 2 titles, with 5 of the 6 finalists in the past 3 years.
Whitney Osuigwe defeated Claire Liu in 2017 and Coco Gauff defeated Caty McNally last year.
Back in 2016, Amanda Anisimova, then 14, reached the final, falling to Rebeka Masarova of Switzerland.
Three years later Anisimova is through to the 4th round of the women’s draw after defeating Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania 7-6(6) 6-4 on Saturday.
It is the second straight slam round of 16 for the 17-year-old from Florida. Anisimova will face former Oklahoma State/Florida Atlantic standout Aliona Bolsova of Spain, a qualifier, for a place in the quarter-finals.
Anisimova is one of 3 unseeded teenagers to reach the round of 16 in Paris.
18-year-old Iga Siwatek of Poland, last year’s Wimbledon girls champion, advanced with a 0-6 6-3 6-3 win over Monica Puig of Puerto Rico, while Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic, who turns 20 later this month, reached the 4th round with a win over No 28 seed Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain Friday.
No 14 seed Madison Keys defeated qualifier Anna Blinkova of Russia 6-3 6-7(5) 6-4 to face, not top seed Naomi Osaka of Japan, but Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic, who upset Osaka 6-4 6-2.
That was big news, but perhaps even bigger was Sonya Kenin’s 6-2 7-5 win over Serena Williams, the No 10 seed.
The 20-year-old from Florida, who got a walkover from No 22 seed Bianca Andreescu of Canada in the second round, was not intimidated by the Williams aura and with two previous WTA Top 10 wins already to her credit, she had enough experience to cope with the tense atmosphere.
The fourth American woman in the round of 16, No 7 seed Sloane Stephens, will play No 19 seed and former French Open champion Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain on Sunday.
All have come through the juniors ranks so watch this space!