15 Jul 2017

Liu overcomes all obstacles on way to elusive title

News Article

By Clive White

Photo: Martin SidorjakAnn Li (USA) and Claire Liu (USA)

The bitter disappointment of five weeks ago when Claire Liu lost a final at Roland Garros that many people felt she should have won finally evaporated when Ann Li dumped a forehand into the net on Liu’s fifth Championship point.

Liu had won a junior Grand Slam and in the process brought to an end United States’s 25-year wait to produce a junior Wimbledon champion.

Liu would not have been human though if some uncomfortable feelings of déjà vu hadn’t crept into her head when her unseeded American opponent saved three Championship points at 5-4 in the second set.

Just to compound her unease in the very next game the umpire handed Li the game after a Hawkeye challenge showed that her backhand shot had landed smack on the baseline. It gave the girl from King of Prussia, Pennsylvania a 6-5 lead. Liu felt the point should have been replayed and argued bitterly with the umpire.

“You didn’t even see where the ball [Lui’s shot] hit so how can you give her the point?” she asked the umpire Tracey Sheehan.

The girl from Thousand Oaks, California – you have got to love these American birthplaces – could easily have imploded there and then. Many players would have done. And although she lost the set in the next game it was not until after forcing five deuces. Then at the start of the third set she immediately broke Li and refocused.

Such mental fortitude should serve her well in the professional game she is about to enter, although she will play the junior US Open as the new world No1 in September. What should also serve her well is her attacking game which saw her come to the net on 29 occasions and a steady all round game.

Apparently she had dinner with Billie Jean King before the tournament began and the great lady advised her “not to focus on winning or losing just trying to get better each day and have fun”. With five girls in the quarterfinals the future looks bright for American women’s tennis, providing of course they train on. It could be said that the last American winner of junior Wimbledon, Chanda Rubin, only partially fulfilled her early promise, largely due to injuries.

Both girls were understandably nervous at the start, particularly before such a big crowd on Court One. Li lost the opening eight points and the set seemed to pass her before she knew it. When she eventually got going she showed that she has a big game, but knows she needs to find a better balance between attack and defence. At the moment she is going for a little too much as 39 unforced errors against Liu’s 19 would suggest.

“I should have put more engery into the first set, perhaps then I would not have overplayed in the third,” said Li. “I think she’s really solid and knows herself well. She figures out her opponent too and she tries to put pressure [on you] from the beginning. I know she was nervous too in the beginning, but she just played better than I did.”

The only American left in the boys’ singles, Patrick Kypson, lost 64 64 to the strapping blonde-haired Spaniard of Russian extraction, Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, although he was 4-1 up in the second set and threatening to make a match of it.

“If winning Wimbledon guaranteed me that I’d be a Top 50 pro I’d be pretty upset but it doesn’t,” said Kypson, searching for some consolation.

The final on Sunday promises to be a slugfest because the winner of the other semifinal, Axel Geller, of Argentina, has a big game too. He hit the fastest serve of the boys’ competition at 135 mph against the No. 1 seed Corentin Moutet, of France.

In the first set it looked as if the Frenchman, with his smart use of the drop shot, would be too cute for his opponent, but after the rain delay Geller, who unlike many of his opponents only plays junior matches, reasserted himself to win 16 63 63.