Photo: Corinne DubreuilNikola Milojevic (SRB)
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA: Pressure and pleasure. Being a favourite for the year’s first junior grand slam can be tough to take but boys’ top seed Nikola Milojevic and girls’ No 3 seed Ana Konjuh both made convincing starts to their bid for glory in the junior events at the Australian Open on Saturday.
Serbia’s Milojevic, a protégé of Novak Djokovic and mentored by Janko Tipsarevic, beat Jurence Zosimo Mendoza of the Philippines 63 61, the first step on what he hopes will be the path to a first grand slam title.
Like Djokovic, the 17-year-old Milojevic is from Belgrade and has enjoyed the advantage of hitting with the world No 1 this week in preparation for his assault on the boys’ title.
“We practised three times already,” Milojevic said. “It’s very nice and very difficult at the same time.
“I was telling my coach, Novak was playing not so fast and I see how relaxed he is and I am so focused. He’s not really hitting the ball hard and I can feel that, but I cannot do anything against it, so definitely he’s the best player I’ve ever practised with and after him, any other guy feels much, much easier.
Djokovic and Tipsarevic have been very supportive of Milojevic as he has topped the rankings at each age group but the 17-year-old said being top seed brought with it more expectations than usual.
“It’s totally different, that’s for sure,” he said. “This is my third time in Australia so I definitely know how to play here but definitely I feel some pressure being No 1 seed in such a big tournament. It’s pressure and pleasure at the same time.”
“Right now, (Novak)’s No 1 in the world, I’m No 1 junior, so it’s kind of a special relationship. Everybody expects me to be him now, so that’s also pleasure and pressure.”
Another Serb, fourth seed Laslo Djere, did not fare so well as he went down 64 67 62 to Slovakia’s Matej Maruscak but sixth seed Hyeon Chung of Korea, eighth seed Filippo Baldi of Italy, ninth seed Christian Garin of Chile and Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan (14) all advanced to round two.
In the girls’ event, with Czech favourite Katerina Siniakova not in action until Sunday, much of the attention was on third seed Ana Konjuh of Croatia, a 15-year-old who won the prestigious Orange Bowl title in December.
Konjuh is already a part of the Croatia Fed Cup team, alongside 16-year-old Donna Vekic, who played in the main draw. With captain Iva Majoli watching from the sidelines, the powerful Konjuh saw off Australia’s Ellen Perez 63 64.
Cast out on Court No 15 on the extremity of Melbourne Park, both players had to deal with a tricky wind but Konjuh coped best to come out a convincing winner. “The first round is always the hardest but it went really well,” Konjuh said. “I have a lot of confidence right now. I’ve won 13 matches in a row so I hope I can do more here.
Konjuh said seeing Vekic playing in the main draw was an inspiration for the future. “Of course, she’s one year older so in the next few months I want to be like her,” she said. “Seeing her on the court and me here, I hope next year I hope I am going to be in a professional grand slam too.”
Fourth seed Antonia Lottner of Germany had to battle to get past Aliona Bolsova of Moldova 76 67 62 while Anna Kontaveit of Estonia, seeded 10th, had an easier time of it as she beat Britain’s Harriet Dart 62 75.