Wimbledon Juniors | Destinee leads the Brit charge as boys seeds stumble
The Junior singles championships at Wimbledon kicked off in much the same way as the main women’s draw with the loss of five boys seeds in the opening round.
There was one British win, however, in the form of Destinee Martin, who safely reached the second round of the girls’ event.
I was so happy on the court, and I was playing really good, I felt good Otto Virtanen
The No 2 seeded Argentine, Sebastian Baez and America’s 3rd seed, Sebastian Korda failed to advance on a scorching day at SW19.
Having not set foot on a grass court until two weeks ago, Finland’s Otto Virtanen familiarised himself swiftly enough to effectively eliminate Korda.
“Best moment so far this year, absolutely. Maybe best moment in tennis,’’ Virtanen said after defeating the reigning Australian Open champion, 6-3 7-6(2), in front of an enthusiastic crowd of Finnish supporters on Court No 4.
The red-hot Finn served his way to victory after being one of the last players to make the main draw, and he only faced one break point, at 2-1 in the first set.
“I think he didn’t have the best day, but I served so well, he didn’t have a chance in my service games,” said the 17-year-old, who had never played a tournament on grass prior to the Grade 1 last week at Roehampton.
“I was so happy on the court, and I was playing really good, I felt good.”
Korda’s game improved in the second set, and he saved the only break point Virtanen had against him, but with the American serving at 0-1 in the tiebreak, he got caught anticipating a cross court pass while closing at the net and the Finn went down the line for the winner and a 2-0 lead.
With Virtanen’s serve, that was all he needed, closing out the biggest win of his junior career with a forehand winner.
“I didn’t think about it,” he said of any nerves in the breaker. “I think it’s nice to be here and I would play my own game, not who was playing against me.
“I would try to hit the serve in and quickly play my best shot. The first shot will be the best shot, and the last point was what I thought, a first-shot winner.”
Korda, who says he likes grass despite results on the surface that may suggest otherwise, gave credit to Virtanen.
“He was serving really well, playing really well,” said Korda, who turned 18 two days ago. “Even his second serve was almost as big as his first serve.
“It was an unbelievable serve and he was using it really well today. It was good match and I enjoyed myself, playing at such an incredible place. [Wimbledon is] unbelievable, that’s all I can say.”
Korda admitted he may be more of a marked man since his triumph at Melbourne Park in January, as is also the case for Roland Garros champion Tseng Chun Hsin, favourite for the title at Wimbledon.
“Everybody wants to beat him; maybe it’s the same way for me,’’ said Korda. “I guess there’s no pressure for the opponents, we’re higher-ranked and they have nothing lose to lose.’’
Virtanen shares a physiotherapist and close relationship with fellow Finn and 2017 Australian Open doubles champion Henri Kontinen.
“I know him pretty well. I’m working with his dad, and we’re good friends, and he is supporting me on and off court,’’ Virtanen said of Kontinen, a 2008 boys’ finalist at the All England Club.
“I get good advice from him, and sometimes from his dad… Use more slice [on the grass] than on clay court and hardcourt, and you have to have big game.’’
The other major casualty was the Argentine, Baez, who forgot to enter by the deadline and was given a wild card into the tournament.
The French Open finalist did not play at Roehampton last week and is not a fan of the grass, going down to fellow South American Gilbert Soares Klier jnr of Brazil, 6-2 6-4, his third loss on the surface.
Another top eight seed to exit the boys’ singles draw was Japan’s Naomi Tajima, beaten 6-7(4) 7-6(1) 6-1 at the hands of American Trey Hilderbrand.
Hilderbrand has a game that is tailor-made for the grass and the 18-year-old Texan took out the Japanese by playing a classic serve-volley game that saw him convert 69 of 97 points at the net.
“Finally I’m on my favourite surface, the surface my game is really suited for,” said Hilderbrand, who attends the University of Central Florida.
“I was taught at a young age, my dad first taught me how to come in, because the game, when he played was all about coming in.
“Obviously, the game’s changed a little bit. But he said I’m really good at coming into the net, so we’re going to make sure I’m coming into the net as much as possible.”
He faced his only break point of the match serving at 2-1 in the third set, and once he saved that, his first serve percentage of 75% was too much for Tajima, a Roehampton semi-finalist, to overcome.
“I was kind of bummed when I saw the draw, because I knew he was a very, very good player,” Hilderbrand said.
“To get my first win here at Wimbledon, playing it for the first time at Wimbledon against No 8 in the world, it’s really exciting.”
While Hilderbrand had a two-hour plus fight, another American, Cannon Kingsley, needed only 45 minutes to defeat No 12 seed Carlos Lopez Montagud of Spain, 6-3 6-2.
“I got through pretty easily I guess,” said the 17-year-old Kingsley. “I could tell the guy was a little nervous and I came out, surprisingly, a little confident.
“The first Grand Slam I played [last month’s French Open] I was very nervous, but [today] I was more in my comfort zone out there.”
Kingsley, who warmed up for the grass court season not only at Roehampton but also on Long Island grass courts near his home, went 12 for 12 at the net.
“I could tell he was more of a clay court player,” said Kingsley. “I knew that from the past and kind of took advantage of that, stepped in and controlled the points. It was a really good win for me though.”
The fifth boys seed to lose on Saturday was No 13 Filip Jianu of Romania, who fell to Deney Wassermann of the Netherlands, 6-3 6-4.
Two British juniors were in action in the boys, but both wild cards lost: Connor Thomson to Tao Mu from China, 6-2 6-2, while Harry Wendelken had a fine tussle with Juan Manuel Cerundolo, the 14th seed from Argentina, 4-6 6-4 7-5.
In the girls’ singles, two wild-carded Brits were in action, with Destinee Martins scoring an impressive 7-5 6-1 victory over Poland’s Stefania Rogozinska Dzik, and Victoria Allen narrowly losing in three sets to American Lea Ma, 3-6 6-4 6-3.
The 7th seed Eleanora Molinara is learning as she goes, and despite not playing at Roehampton last week as she was at home in Luxembourg sitting a French exam, she has been preparing on an indoor carpet with Wimbledon balls ahead of the grass.
A quarter-finalist at Roland Garros, Molinaro’s favourite surface is hard court, but her best results have come on clay, so grass is new territory for her
“It was tough because it was my first match on grass. I have never played on it, I had not much training on it, but I was just fighting until the end and I feel more confident in the third set,’’ Molinaro said after her 5-7 3-6 4-6 win over Natasha Subhash of the USA.
“I played just yesterday one-and-a-half-hour and this morning 30 minutes – that was my preparation for Wimbledon!’’