Michael Zheng failed to make it an American double at the weekend when he was unable to overcome Croatia’s Mili Poljicak in the junior boys’ singles final at Wimbledon.
I played every point and I think I was the better player. The result says so Michael Zheng
Just 24 hours earlier, his compatriot, 16-year-old Texas based right hander Liv Hovde, had justified her top seeding, overcoming Hungary’s Luca Udvardy in the girls’ singles final in straight sets, 6-3 6-4. Her victory took just over 70-minutes to complete and it ensured at least one American success story here for the second year running following Samir Banerjee’s triumph 12 months ago.
But the American double was not to be.
17-year-old Poljicak spoilt the American party on Court No 1 with a two tie-break victory over Zheng, who was only able to muster 5 points in both. Why Poljicek, who had never been past the quarter finals in junior Grand Slams, was able to so comprehensively reverse his second-round defeat to Zheng at the French Open juniors last month, no one knows. Perhaps, though, it might have had something to do with the Croatian’s practice partner.
A few hours before his Sunday final, Poljicak found himself on Court 10, next to Novak Djokovic, who was preparing for his own final later that day.
“I have been working for years to even play Grand Slams, and I was able to practice with one of the best of all time to warm up before my final – and to warm him up before his,” said Poljicak with a grin. “It was a great feeling and a great memory. He told me to be calm, to concentrate and play every point. He said he believed I would win. He said we both have a Balkan mentality. It helped me a lot and I’m very thankful.”
Indeed it did. He took the initiative from the start and, despite going down 5-3 in the first set, he recovered well and didn’t allow Zheng any further opportunities to gain a foothold in the match. Once the two sets went to the tie-break, it was Poljicak who dominated.
“From the first point, I was the better player,” said Poljicak, who turns 18 three days after the final. “I still made some easy mistakes at the beginning that gave him a break, then he was 5-3 and serving at 40-15. I managed to play three or four good points to get back into the set and that was the deciding moment. The second set, he also broke me first, but I was calm. I played every point and I think I was the better player. The result says so.”
Poljicak’s route to the final was not without its dramas, the Split based youngster having to withdraw from the doubles event after suffering a stomach ailment and lack of sleep before he overcame Switzerland’s Kilian Feldbausch.
“Before my quarter-final, I only slept for about three hours and I was throwing up during the night.”
Undeterred, he went on to reach the final with a 7-5 6-2 victory over Spaniard Pablo Rodenas.
For Zheng, it was a case, perhaps, of him peaking too soon. After his three set semi-final win over another Spaniard Martin Landaluce, who is just 16, he acknowledged that he may have played his best ever match.
“I brought my A-game. Martin played really well and it is definitely one of the highest-quality matches in my young career so far. He is still two years younger than me and is going to be unbelievable. The guy is one of the best juniors in the world, for sure.
Despite losing in his subsequent final, Zheng remained pleased with his week on grass.
“On the whole, I am happy,” said Zheng. “It is so tough to lose in the final, but it has been a great week. I never thought I would get to the final, especially after losing in the third round at J1 Roehampton – I wasn’t feeling the grass at all. I was so happy to get this far.“
Liv Hovde is another young American looking to make the grade and at just 16 years old, she certainly made an impact on grass this summer, winning the J1 Roehampton event before progressing to her second consecutive final, and victory, in straight sets over Hungary’s Luca Udvardy, also 16.
“I am so happy to win a Junior Grand Slam title at Wimbledon, this means the world to me,” said Hovde who had to save match points in her third -ound match with Canadian Kaya Cross 4-6 7-5 6-4. “So many Americans have won Junior Grand Slam titles and gone on to do some wonderful things in tennis. I cannot wait to see what the future brings.”
She also went on to say that she, like Poljicak, had an encounter with Novak Djokovic following her win.
“I bumped into Novak Djokovic after my match, we had a conversation and he was really nice,” added Hovde. “He congratulated me on my title win and we took a photo together. He also asked how I was feeling after winning, it was really cool.”
17 British players were in the boys and girls draw but only one, 17-year-old Oxford based Jasmine Conway, made it past the third round, losing to the tournament’s 16th seed, Czech Republic’s Linda Klimovicova, 18, in three sets.
In the girls’ doubles final, Angella Okutoyi of Kenya and Rose Marie Nijkamp of the Netherlands beat Kayla Cross and Victoria Mboko of Canada 3-6 6-4 while in the boys’ doubles final, Sebastian Gorzny and Alex Michelsen of the United States defeated Gabriel Debru and Paul Inchauspe of France 7-6(5), 6-3.