12 Jul 2017

Treble chance Americans look to end 25 years' hurt

News Article

By Clive White

Photo: Susan MullaneKayla Day (USA)

WIMBLEDON: Given the success of the Williams sisters at the Championships in the last two decades it’s hard to believe that it is 25 years since an American last won junior Wimbledon. That feat was managed by Chanda Rubin since when only three other Americans have made the final.

However, that spell, it would appear, is about to be broken if the progress made by a clutch of young Americans at this year’s Championships is anything to go by, coming on the back as it does of uncharacteristically good form on the red stuff at Roland Garros where an American won the junior French Open for the first time in 28 years. Just to make doubly sure that that particular hoodoo was over and done with the Americans supplied both the finalists. They may well do so again here.

All the top three seeds came through their third-round tests on Wednesday although Whitney Osuigwe, the Roland Garros champion, had a bit of a wobble in the second set against Great Britain’s Katie Swan before sprinting to the finish in a 64 26 61 win. Just to accentuate the North American positive two others and a Canadian also made it through to the quarterfinals.

However, the one with the target on her back is not so much Osuigwe as the No1 seed Kayla Day who has a world ranking of 126 and is playing her first and probably last junior tournament of the year before joining the senior ranks full time. Last year’s junior US Open champion, whose mother is Czech, has set her heart on going out with a bang in one of her favourite tournaments. She lost narrowly in last year’s semifinals to the Russian Anastasia Potapova.

Unsurprisingly, she puts the rise of American fortunes down to the fierce, if friendly, rivalry that exists between the top American girls.  

“The USTA has done a good job of grouping us together,” she said. “We train together in two major places, Orlando and Carson, which helps us to push each other along. If I see one girl do well I want to do well.”

Day, who will not be 18 until September, has been holding her own in the seniors, albeit at a lower level than the WTA Tour, and has beaten some big name players this year, among them Daniela Hantuchova, a player she used to watch regularly as a little girl, and a couple of would be American stars in Michelle Larcher de Brito and Melanie Oudin. Big or small in reputation it makes no difference to Day – she is fearful, or more like respectful, of all of them.

“A lot of people have this idea of pressure, but I don’t see any difference,” said Day. “I still get nervous in the pros, I still get nervous in the juniors.”

After completing her second-round match which had to be held over because of the rain on Tuesday she was back on court just 45 minutes later to play the No15 seed Zeel Desai. She found it mentally more challenging than physically and it took her while to readjust but the left-hander eventually came through, sealing a 64 64 win on her fourth match point with a forehand winner that brooked no argument.

Her opponent in the quarterfinals will be fellow American Ann Li, with whom she has had two close matches, winning both after dropping the first set. She feels that grass will suit her opponent’s aggressive style. Li set up the meeting by beating Poland’s Maja Chwalinska, the surprise conqueror of the junior Australian Open champion, Marta Kostyuk, in straight sets.

Osuigwe, who is the No2 seed, plays a Russian – there is always a Russian in the mix in women’s or junior tennis – Sofya Lansere in the quarterfinals while Claire Liu, the runner-up in Roland Garros, completes the trio of American top seeds. She meets the Canadian Carson Branstine. The Canadians have some pedigree in this competition, having won it in 2012 with Eugenie Bouchard.