09 Jun 2017

USA's Liu & Osuigwe reach Roland Garros finals

News Article

By Sandra Harwitt

Whitney Osuigwe (USA)

PARIS - For the first time in 37 years -and only the second time in Roland Garros history - two Americans will compete in the girls’ final, which guarantees that there will be an American champion for the fifth time since the girls’ competition began in 1953.

Waving the stars-and stripes on Saturday will be sixth seed Claire Liu, a Southern Californian, and seventh seed Whitney Osiugwe from Southwest Florida - this will be the battle of the right coast (that’s Florida) and the left coast (that’s California) and may the best side win.

It was in 1980, in the last all-American girls' final at Roland Garros, that Kathy Horvath defeated Kelly Henry in straight sets to become the third American girl to win the title.

The last American to win the Roland Garros girls’ honors was Jennifer Capriati in 1989. The other two USA winners were Ann Smith in 1977 and Bonnie Gadusek in 1981.

This will be the 17-year-old Liu’s first Grand Slam final appearance in eight Grand Slam tournaments played. For the 15-year-old Osuigwe, this is her first Grand Slam final in only her second Grand Slam tournament - she only played at the US Open last year and lost in the first round.

For Liu, the 62 60 semifinal win over Marta Paigina of Russia leaves her only one match win away from her biggest 2017 goal. It’s worth noting that Paigina played some havoc with the draw this week, taking out top seed and fellow Russian Anastasia Potapova in the fourth round and fifth seed Iga Swiatek of Poland in the quarterfinals, not to mention 13th seed Emily Appleton of Great Britain in the second round.

“It feels amazing,” said Liu, of earning a final berth. “I’ve been having a good last few weeks so it feels so nice. It’s a Grand Slam, it’s a big tournament. I wanted to try and win a Grand Slam this year. That’s one of my goals for this year, so it would be a dream come true.”

For Osuigwe, the 64 64 semifinal win over 11th seed Elena Rybakina is furthering her already excellent season where she won two Grade 1 titles on red clay at the Asuncion Bowl in Paraguay and the Banana Bowl in Brazil.

“I love clay,” Osuigwe said. “Being in the finals on clay is nice.”

Liu is expecting a tough match from the younger Osuigwe on Saturday.

“She’s obviously an unbelievable player since she’s gotten to the finals,” Liu said of Osuigwe. “She a really good mover and she does have a lot of power, too. I think it’s going to be a really good match.

That said, Osuigwe knows that when they met at the Easter Bowl Championships a few months ago Liu dominated the hard court outing by posting a 61 61 semifinal win.

“She kicked my butt,” said Osuige, laughingly, of Liu. “Yeah, that’s all there is to it.”

Osuigwe is hoping the clay, which she favors, will work to her favor on Saturday.

“It’s a different surface, it’s a different time, and now I think I know how to play her.”
While Osuigwe is concentrating on the match ahead - the Roland Garros final - she also has her eye to a special event she’ll play this autumn. She plans on competing at the elite eight-player ITF Junior Masters in Chengdu, China in October.

“Yeah, I’m going to play,” Osuigwe said. “It’s going to be tough because there’s only eight of us - the best eight. I'm just going to go compete. And I’ve never been to Asia before.”

It is also a first Grand Slam final for third seed Alexei Popyrin of Australia and 11th seed Nicolas Kuhn of Spain, who will meet in Saturday’s boys’ final. Popyrin ousted Alejandro Davidovich Fokina of Spain 64 62, while Kuhn had a harder time upsetting top seed Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia 76 (5) 26 76 (4).

Popyrin arrived in Paris fresh off of winning his first Grade A title at the Trofeo Bonfiglio tournament in Milan, Italy. Prior to this week, Popyrin’s best Grand Slam showing in six previous trips to the majors was reaching the round-of-16 at Roland Garros last year.

“It means a lot to me,” Popyrin said. “I worked so hard to make it to the final, to reach the top 10 in the juniors and I’m here now. I’ve got one more step to reach my goal If I play my game I’m confident I can get on top (in the final).”

Popyrin spent the morning before the match practicing with Dominic Thiem of Austria ahead of the latter’s semifinal against nine-time Rafael Nadal. It was the third time this week that they’ve trained together.

“Hitting with Thiem really helped me a lot in this match because he hits heavy balls and the guy I played hit flat balls,” Popyrin said. “It’s much easier to hit flat balls after heavy balls. It was a great experience playing on Centre Court with so many people watching.”

At 1.94 m tall, one would think that the 17-year-old Popyrin would prefer faster surfaces. But he not only likes clay, his family took great steps to have him train on clay.

Born in Sydney, Australia to parents who emigrated from Russia, the family minus his older sister, is now headquartered in Spain because of the clay courts. He also spends some time at Patrick Mouratoglou’s Academy in France learning on-court mastery.