Wimbledon | Not all junior stars make the senior ranks
The stage is set for the stars of the future to experience what it means to play on the grass at Wimbledon, with the singles draws published.
It is the stuff that dreams are made of, but not all will make it to the big time.
There are four Junior events at The Championships: Boys’ Singles, Girls’ Singles, Boys’ Doubles and Girls’ Doubles, with match play starting on middle Saturday of The Championships every year, and continuing throughout the second week to the finals over Finals weekend.
Junior players, aged between 14 and 18, come from all over the world to compete in the Junior Championships and although they don’t receive prize money, they do receive ranking points that count towards their international junior ranking.
Many of today’s main draw players once competed at Junior Wimbledon, but very few have won both the junior singles and the main singles titles.
In fact, an exclusive group of 16 players in the singles draws this year have something in common, they have all also competed in the Juniors at Wimbledon
This group includes the men’s top seed, Roger Federer; 26th-seeded Denis Shapovalov; and four unseeded men; while the 10 women range from second-ranked Caroline Wozniacki to 237th-ranked Claire Liu.
Other possible members of the club are not at this year’s tournament for a variety of reasons, including hip surgery and training to be a police officer, so there is no telling what will become of a Wimbledon junior champion down the road.
“Don’t take it as a guarantee that you will make it,” said Marton Fucsovics, the 2010 boys’ champion, took more than seven years to break into the top 100 and is now ranked 49.
“You have to work every day, very hard.”
Junior champions are crowned on No 1 Court, the tournament’s second largest stadium, often while the men’s and women’s finals are being played on Centre Court.
Few have coronations on both stages.
Only four men have done it: Bjorn Borg, Pat Cash, Stefan Edberg and Federer; while only two women who have won the girls’ title at Wimbledon, Martina Hingis in 1994 and Amélie Mauresmo in 1996, have gone on to lift the Venus Rosewater Dish.
Edberg remains the only player to have completed the ‘Junior Grand Slam’ by winning the junior event at all four Grand Slams.
Most, however, fall short.
The girls’ champion between Hingis and Mauresmo was Aleksandra Olsza, who won only three main-draw matches at Grand Slam events in her career and retired in 1999 with a career-high ranking of No 72.
Roman Valent, the 2000 Wimbledon boys’ champion, played only one match on the ATP Tour, in 2009.
Two more recent Wimbledon girls’ champions, Caroline Wozniacki (2006) and Jelena Ostapenko (2014), went on to win major women’s singles titles elsewhere.
Ostapenko won her Grand Slam title less than three years later, at the 2017 French Open but it took Wozniacki more than 11 years for her major breakthrough to come at the Australian Open this January.
Not all top players spent much time at junior Grand Slam tournaments, however, and Venus and Serena Williams played no junior events at all, while Rafael Nadal played just one, Wimbledon in 2002, where he lost in the semi-finals.
Two second-round matches on No 3 Court on Thursday pitted past Wimbledon girls’ champions against each other – the 12th-seeded Ostapenko defeated the 2003 champion Kirsten Flipkens, 6-1 6-3, and Ashleigh Barty, the 2011 champion, beat the 2012 champion Eugenie Bouchard, 6-4 7-5.
Barty and Bouchard took different routes after their titles.
Bouchard would make it to the Wimbledon women’s final in 2014, two years after her junior win, and would reach the top five by the end of that year.
She said she believed that competing at all the junior Grand Slam events until she was 18 allowed her to fully incubate.
“I feel like some girls or guys try to go so quickly to the pros that they kind of skip a step,” she said.
“So I really kind of fully went through the juniors and I did every single step. I think that gave me this foundation when I went to the pros; that’s why I did so well.”
Bouchard, 24, has regressed considerably since, and is currently ranked 188th, entering the main draw via qualifying, her first time doing so, to turn around what she calls ‘the middle of her career’.
Her advice to those who experience early successes is to savour it: “Enjoy those big moments, because no matter what, no one can take it away from you,” she said.
For Barty, an Australian, the big moment at the junior level came earlier, winning the girls’ title at 15.
“But come that handshake, I think everything hit me pretty quickly,” she has said.
The stress of ensuing pressure and expectations precipitated her nearly-two-year absence from the tour later on.
“It was probably one of the best moments and one of the worst moments of my career, in the sense that it was a big factor when the pressure and everything changed,” she said of her junior Wimbledon title.
“I think if you’re ready to accept that, and embrace it, and learn to deal with it, it can help you. But for me, I wasn’t ready to do that.”
Barty, the No 17 seed this year, ultimately recovered, but some never do.
Noppawan Lertcheewakarn, who won the girls’ title in 2009 and also reached the final in 2008, struggled to replicate her junior prowess against professionals, and she never broke into the top 100, peaking at No 149 in 2011.
Lertcheewakarn’s title was a sensation in her native Thailand, which had never before produced a Grand Slam champion and she couldn’t cope with the attention.
“It was quite tough for me to handle that,” she said. “Everybody got involved. If it happened in England or U.S., it’s good, but it’s normal.
“In Thailand, no. If I could change time, I would like to practice outside Thailand, based somewhere else, so I can focus on my practice and stuff like that.”
Lertcheewakarn is now training to be a police officer, but she still dreams of giving tennis another chance.
“I’m not sure if I’m choosing the right thing or not,” she said. “I’m still 26. Sometimes, when I look back, I want to come back.”
For some, the road to professional success is winding but ultimately navigable. Fucsovics, the 2010 boys’ champion, took more than seven years to break into the top 100. He is now ranked 49th.
“I thought it would be very easy to break into the top 100, but it wasn’t like that,” he said. “It took years to break in the top 100. It didn’t affect my career very well.”
For some, it comes quickly. Shapovalov, 19, the 2016 boys’ champion, was seeded 26th in the men’s draw this year.
He is the only one of the last seven Wimbledon boys’ champions to have broken the top 100, beating the 2005 boys champion, Jérémy Chardy, in the first round before losing in four sets to Benoit Paire in the second round on Thursday.
Laura Robson of Britain thrilled the home fans with her 2008 girls’ championship, and made fourth-round runs at the United States Open and Wimbledon while still a teenager, but as Wimbledon played on, she had hip surgery at 24, her latest injury interruption.
Nick Kyrgios, who was the boys’ champion at the 2013 Australian Open and competed as the top seed at the Wimbledon junior event that year, said junior success established a comfort level at the facilities.
“I don’t think I would have had as deep of a run the first year I played main draw here if I didn’t play juniors,” he said. “I was very comfortable with my surroundings. I saw the locker rooms. I saw the big guys walking around.”
Flipkens, 32, said the key for juniors to transition was to continue enjoying tennis.
“I’m a pro for 15 years, and I still love what I’m doing,” she said. “That’s what it’s about.”
Nerves, excitement, tension, determination, jubilation, dismay… the list of emotions goes on for the 128 boys and girls who this weekend will step onto court with the aim of declaring themselves stars of the future.
Some of the stars of the future enjoyed a relaxed evening barbecue at the Junior Party held at the ITF Headquarters on Thursday ahead of their participation at junior Wimbledon.
The junior draws, without the qualifiers, have been released, with Chun Hsin Tseng of Taiwan and Osuigwe the top seeds.
Osuigwe has been given a tough first round opponent in Iga Swiatek of Poland, who received entry based on her WTA ranking of 347 and reached the semi-finals at the French Open junior tournament this year, losing to Caty McNally.
Three US boys are seeded: No. 3 Sebastian Korda, No. 11 Tristan Boyer and No. 15 Drew Baird and four US girls: Osuigwe, No 5 Alexa Noel, No 3 Gauff and No 13 McNally, who are in the same half.
Brits in the draw include direct acceptances Aidan McHugh, who is seeded 16 and Jack Draper, plus wild cards Emile Hudd, Jake Hersey, Anton Matusevich, Connor Thomson, Blu Baker, Harry Wendelken and Jacob Fearnsley.
In the girls draw, British direct entry Emma Raducanu is joined by wild cards Francesca Jones, Victoria Allen and Destiny Martins.
[Some extracts taken from articles published in the New York Times and wimbledon.com]