The Junior Championships at Wimbledon have a huge following as spectators know this is the breeding ground of future Grand Slam champions.
The likes of Bjorn Borg, Ivan Lendl, Pat Cash, Stefan Edberg and Roger Federer have hoisted the Boys trophy and gone on to win the senior title, while the girls include Ann Haydon Jones, Olga Morozova, Tracy Austin, Martina HIngis and Amelie Mauresmo.
I was expecting to go out on like a practice court, play a match with maybe my coaches and the other coaches watching. But it's really nice to play with a crowd watching Danny Thomas
The Boys’ Singles Championship got underway on Saturday when the top two seeds were in action, Corentin Moutet from France defeating Argentina’s Sebastian Baez, 6-4 6-3 and Yibing Wu, the Chinese No 2 seed, taking out Britain’s Jack Draper, 6-3 6-2, in 51 minutes.
Draper, 15, is the son of the former Chief Executive of the LTA, Roger Draper, and a young British hope.
Wu, speaking perfect English, told reporters he was here to win the event and his following of Chinese media testify that his country expects this of him also.
“He’s just a very good ball machine,” Draper said
“He makes a lot of balls and hits pinpoint serves. He seemed to be in his element. I found the occasion pretty tough to deal with.”
At some two and a half years younger than Wu, Draper found himself a little out of his depth despite his own height.
“I don’t play much on grass,” he said. “I think when I’m older and bigger I’ll be a bit better on it.”
Asked if his father was watching he replied: “No, he wasn’t, maybe on the live scores. He’s been a big part of my tennis life, but I’ve got other people around me now, like my mum.”
Another Brit, Hamish Stewart, received a wild card into the draw and justified it with a win over Tomas Machac from Czech Republic, 4-6 7-5 6-1, as did another wild-carded Briton Aidan McHugh, who beat America’s Gianni Ross, 6-2 2-6 6-4.
The No 3 seed Zsombor Piros, Hungary’s junior Australian Open champion, lost to Timofey Skatov from Russia, 6-2 6-4.
Danny Thomas, playing in just his second grass court tournament, defeated No 14 seed Zizou Bergs of Belgium 6-4 6-4.
“I can use my slice a lot, use my forehand a little more flat,” said the 17-year-old American left-hander, who reached the third round at Roehampton, losing to eventual champion Axel Geller of Argentina.
“I can move to the net a lot and my slice serve is really effective, and I can serve and volley a lot more than on hard or clay. So I like it a lot more.”
Thomas wasn’t familiar with Bergs, but he had some secondhand scouting information that he used.
“I heard he was changing some things on his forehand and his backhand wasn’t as effective,” Thomas said.
“But he played solid off both sides, hit his forehand pretty big. I think where I was able to take control was when I would pressure him a little more to the forehand side, because he had a bigger loop and that’s kind of hard to manage on grass.”
Thomas was impressed by the fans that flock to the junior courts.
“It’s just a great atmosphere,” said Thomas, who is coached by former Ohio State Buckeyes Balazs Novak and Ralf Steinbach.
“I was expecting to go out on like a practice court, play a match with maybe my coaches and the other coaches watching. But it’s really nice to play with a crowd watching.”
Thomas was the only US boy in action on Saturday to advance, with Alafia Ayeni falling to Wake Forest recruit Menelaos Efstathiou of Cyprus 3-6 6-4 6-4, Alexandre Rotsaert losing to No 12 seed Yshai Oliel of Israel 6-3 6-2 and Gianni Ross suffering a loss to McHugh.
McHugh was feeling ill and took a medical timeout trailing 5-2 in the second, so when Ross was up 4-1 and serving in the third set, only a few inebriated fans standing court side still entertained any hope of a victory for the local favourite.
The match completely turned around then, with Ross having trouble getting a first serve in the court and McHugh taking and making aggressive swings, with Ross barely winning a point in the final five games.
Second seeded, Whitney Osuigwe, of the United States, came through fairly comfortably in straight sets in her first-round match against British wild card, Gemma Heath, 6-3 6-1.
Osuigwe, whose lithesome build oozes adaptability, won the junior French Open last month at the tender age of just 15 years and two months.
Another British wild card, Eliz Maloney was more successful against Spain’s Maria Jose Portillo Ramirez, coming through 6-2 2-6 6-4.
Emily Appleton, Britain’s No 8 seed, took three sets to see off Ayumi Miyamoto’s challenge, 6-2 4-6 6-2.
First round British casualties included Esther Adeshina, Anna Loughlan and Holly Fischer.
America’s Ellie Douglas admitted to an unpleasant flashback in her first round match after leading No 4 seed Elena Rybakina 6-4 3-6 5-2 and 15-40, when the 17-year-old Texan couldn’t help but remember her first round match with the Russian at the Grade A in Milan two months ago.
“I played her in Italy and was up 5-2 in the third and I ended up losing that match,” said Douglas, who then watched Rybakina go on to win the tournament.
“So I was up 5-2 this time and I lost two match points and that game, and I was like, Ellie, come on you cannot do this, you are switching it.”
Douglas did close out the match on her serve in the next game, but only after five more match points came and went.
Although this is Douglas’s first Wimbledon and just her second grass court tournament after a first round loss last week in Roehampton, she believes the surface is a good one for her.
“Throughout this week I’ve been training on grass and I really like it, I think it suits my game,” Douglas said. “I love coming to the net and I have great volleys.”
Douglas said the win was particularly satisfying, as she had lost in the first round of her last three junior events prior to this one.
“It’s amazing, especially after this summer,” Douglas said. “I’ve been struggling. I’ve been up a lot, in Milan, at Roland Garros I was up 5-3 in the third. It’s tough, and I think tennis is tough journey anyway, so this gives me some confidence. I’m really happy right now.”