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Swiss on a roll – Juniors at the French Open

European juniors dominated the Covid affected French Open juniors this year, with a home player, Elsa Jacquemot, seeded 3, winning the girls singles, and Swiss 7th seed, Dominic Stephan Stricker, 18, winning the boys singles.

Roger texted the coach of Leandro and said to pass on his congratulations to both of us, telling us to enjoy what we’d achieved. Stan also messaged both of us yesterday in a chat to wish us good luck Dominic Stephan Stricker

In the absence of a junior event at the recent US Open, Jacquemot’s victory followed on from French success at the Australian Open juniors in January when, in an all French final, Harold Mayot’s defeated Arthur Cazaux. Her win proved that the boys’ success Down Under was no one off. French juniors are on the move.

So are the Swiss. Behind Stricker’s victory, if you delve deep enough into the draw, you would notice that there is something quite special going on the world of Swiss tennis.

And I‘m not talking about Roger Federer, with his 20 Grand Slam titles, Stan Wawrinka, with three, or Belinda Bencic, who was a two time junior Grand Slam winner, and who subsequently came back from injury to achieve a WTA world ranking of 4 earlier this year. In her early years, Bencic was inspired by the great Martina Hingis and was coached by her mother.

Such is the ‘dna’ that has run through Swiss tennis in the last three decades or more that it is safe to say that Stricker, his defeated opponent Leandro Reidi, Jeffrey von der Schulenburg and Jerome Kym, will be a quartet to watch out for next year when they enter the senior game, although Kym, at 17, doesn’t turn 18 until February next year.

The significance of Stricker’s victory cannot be overstated. The left-hander, who hadn’t previously been beyond the quarters of a Grand Slam junior singles, became the first Swiss player to win a junior Grand Slam final since Stan Wawrinka’s victory way back in 2003, also in Paris. It was no wonder that the No 7 seed was delighted to receive congratulations from both Wawrinka and Federer after his dominant 6-2 6-4 victory, a match in which he broke his opponent’s serve five times.

“Roger and Stan both texted,” Stricker revealed after his win. “Roger texted the coach of Leandro and said to pass on his congratulations to both of us, telling us to enjoy what we’d achieved. Stan also messaged both of us yesterday in a chat to wish us good luck.”

Stricker, 18, had reached the final with a remarkably scorelined 6-0 5-7 6-0 victory over Argentinean, Juan Bautista Torres, while 8th seed Reidi, who had a better head to head record over his compatriot going into the final, defeated the Netherlands’ Guy den Ouden in straight sets, this after the Dutchman had taken out No. 2 seed and Australian Open boys’ finalist and one of the French contingent, Arthur Cazaux, earlier in the tournament.

In the quarters, Stricker overcame Austria’s Lukas Neumayer in straight sets, 6-3 6-3 while Riedi recovered from a set down to overcome Argentina’s Alex Barrena 4-6 6-1 6-2.

Stricker and Riedi were also responsible for ending British hopes, Riedi defeating Felix Gill and Stricker defeating Arthur Fery, who is now heading to California to take up his place in the Stanford University tennis team, from January.

The progress of this Swiss group is vindication of the Swiss Federation’s policy of targeting juniors in the Grand Slams. Indeed, apart from the French, the Swiss have the most junior boys within the ITF world’s top 25.

“Everyone at Swiss Tennis is very proud,” said the Federation’s Head Coach, Michael Lammer, a member of their 2014 Davis Cup winning team. “It is always the goal for us as a federation to have juniors doing well in the Grand Slams and this is the base for after. It means the work which has been done is good and the direction is the right one. We are really looking forward to what is coming. How far it goes, we cannot predict, but the base is there. We have top players in Switzerland with Roger, Stan and Belinda and maybe they can go into these big footsteps. That is obviously not easy, but it is a big advantage for Swiss tennis to have such role models.”

The Italians,too began the boys tournament with no fewer than five entrants, but only one of them, made it to the third round. Nevertheless, you wonder whether they won’t be far behind the Swiss in years to come. European tennis could be said to be on something of a roll.

Confirmation of a similar resurgence within French international junior tennis scene came not with the expected progress of Australian champion and No 1 seed Harold Mayot, but in the girls event, where Elsa Jacquemont, 17, became the first French girl to win the junior title since Kristina Mladenovic back in 2009 (Mladenovic, now 27, has just won the doubles title at Roland Garros).

Elsa Jacquemot poses with the winners trophy

Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Jacquemot did it in impressive style, coming back strongly from a set (the first she had lost all week) and 4-2 down to defeat Russia’s Alina Charaeva, 4-6 6-4 6-2.

“It’s just amazing. I don’t think I have realised what I have achieved yet,” said Jacquemot, who had never previously gone beyond the quarter-finals at a Junior Grand Slam. “I am super happy and want to savour this moment. This win is a bonus for the future and hopefully winning here will help me, but the road is long and there is a long way to go in my career. For the moment, I will continue to savour it.”

Jacquemot defeated Belarusian Kristina Dmitruk in the quarters in straight sets and followed this up with an impressive semi-final victory over 2nd seed, Alexandra Eala of the Philippines. Her tournament came to a shuddering halt after she had endured a long and draining 4-6 6-3 6-2 victory over Czech Republic’s Linda Noskova in her own quarter-final.

The unseeded Charaeva had to overcome three seeded players in her run to the final including top seed and Australian Open Junior champion, Andorra’s Victoria Jimenez Kasintseva 7-5 2-6 6-3, and 4th seed and fellow Russian, Polina Kudermetova who, two rounds earlier had accounted for the only British interest in the draw, 16 year old Matilda Mutavdzic, whose father is Serbian and whose mother is Montengran! Her tennis training journey has taken her to four countries before settling at the Nadal Academy in Spain.

Despite her tight, 7-6 2-6 5-7 loss to the eventual finalist Charaeva, Kudermetova had a good tournament, defeating the 9th seed, Germany’s Alexandra Vecic, 6-3 7-5, and France’s Oceane Babel, also in straight sets.

The Russians are a threat, but Europe is in the driving seat. Indeed, boys champion Stricker also won the doubles teaming up with Italy’s Flavio Cobolli to defeat the Brazilian partnership Bruno Oliveira and Natan Rodrigues 6-2 6-4. And it was Italians who won the girls’ doubles, Eleonora Alvisi and Lisa Pigato overcoming the Russian pairing and 5th seeds, Maria Bondarenko and Diana Shnaider 7-6 6-4 in their final.



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