24 Sep 2017

USA crowned Junior Fed Cup champions

News Article

By Tom Moran

Photo: Srdjan StevanovicTeam USA

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY: A title-drought of three years doesn’t seem like a particularly long one. But for a nation with such a strong tennis heritage as USA, and after two years of near-misses, the team’s victory in the Junior Fed Cup by BNP Paribas Final on Sunday must feel particularly sweet.

“We’ve worked so hard for this from months ago,” Whitney Osuigwe said moments after defeating Japan’s Yuki Naito to seal the win. “I know Caty and Amanda have gotten to the Finals twice and lost, and I got to the Finals [at the ITF World Junior Tennis Finals] last year and lost, so to be able to win this, it was amazing.”

Osuigwe’s 75 63 victory against Naito, which she completed on her sixth match point, and Caty McNally’s 63 62 triumph over Naho Sato got the job done for the Americans, who lived up to their pre-tournament billing as favourites.

But the week has not been without its challenges. As well as the bad weather that hit Budapest earlier in the week, the American team’s plans in travelling to Hungary had to be changed due to the string of hurricanes that hit Florida and other southern states, while Amanda Anisimova, the team’s top-ranked singles player struggled with illness in the latter part of this week.

“I’m very, very excited, to be honest actually even in the beginning we didn’t know if we were going to make it here, we had a huge hurricane and troubles getting out of the airport,” captain Erik Kortland explained. “We didn’t have our uniforms, we didn’t have our No. 1. I’m just so happy and proud that Caty and Whitney were able to step up and come through today. Very, very proud.”

The Japanese proved tough opposition, having proved their steely determination in a dramatic decisive doubles rubber in Saturday’s semifinal against Ukraine. But McNally, who suffered an upset victory in her semifinal singles rubber against Canada’s Leylah Annie Fernandez, got the team off to a flying start with a confident win against Sato.

That relieved some of the pressure on Osuigwe, but Naito started the stronger in the second rubber and the American was forced to save set points before fighting back to take it in the twelfth game.

Osuigwe raced ahead in the second, but she too found serving it out troublesome, spurning five match point opportunities as Naito fought back. She took the sixth when Naito netted a backhand return, and her teammates raced onto court to embrace her.

“I’m super happy right now,” McNally enthused later. “We lost the past few years in the final so to actually get over the hump and win this year it feels so amazing.”

Japan’s disappointment will be tempered somewhat by the fact that the team is the first from their country ever to reach the Junior Fed Cup Final. And in Naito and Sato, they have two very bright prospects for the future – “real competitors”, as McNally put it.

On the adjacent court, Ukraine earned some consolation for the semifinal loss, defeating Canada in another decisive doubles rubber to claim third place.

But the USA team can now celebrate ending the losing streak in finals, and as Kortland repeated to Osuigwe as she struggled to serve out the match, they should aim to “enjoy the moment”.

“There’s a lot of pressure I guess that the kids put on themselves, parents put on them – hopefully not from the coaches,” Kortland said. “There’s not too many moments that you get like this, so enjoy the moment as much as possible.”