07 Jun 2013

Four newcomers to the juniors finals

News Article

By Sandra Harwitt

Photo: Susan MullaneAntonia Lottner (GER)

Sixteen-year-old Antonia Lottner took a leaf out of Serena Williams’ book in storming through to the girls’s singles final on Friday afternoon. The fifth-seeded German played near flawless tennis to upset top-seeded Ana Konjuh of Croatia 60 61 -- just like Williams defeated Errani 60 61 to reach the women’s final.

“I don’t know what to say,” said the 16-year-old Lottner, smiling about as broadly as possible. “I have no idea how it happened. I just went on the court and said I’m going to have fun today because she is the No. 1, she won the Australian Open, and I knew it was going to be so tough and I’d have to play my best tennis.”

Lottner was right in saying she had to play her best tennis. But she was wrong when she predicted a tough match. From the outset she was in control of the match, much to the dismay of the 15-year-old Konjuh.

At 1.85 metres, Lottner is an imposing figure on court. She possesses an all-around game that can turn on a dime -- hit the ball flat, hit the ball with topspin -- all to keep an opponent guessing what might come next.

“To be honest, I just played amazing,” Lottner said. “She actually played really good at the beginning. Many games were 30-all, deuce, but I always won the important points and that gave me some confidence.”

The only mishap that Lottner faced in the match was when she was serving for her place in the final at 60 50. She lost her serve at 15-40 when she netted a forehand to allow Konjuh to win her only game of their semifinal. The next game Konjuh fell behind 15-40 and then double faulted to hand the win to Lottner.

“I was really nervous and I tried to say, ‘Okay, it’s just another game,’ but you have it in your head that you can serve now for the match and get into the final,” said Lottner, of not serving it out in the 12th game.

For Lottner, the win puts her into her first Grand Slam junior final. Her best previous Grand Slam results were reaching the semifinals at the 2012 Roland Garros and U.S. Open.

“I’m just really happy how I did,” Lottner said. “It’s my first Grand Slam final. It’s very hard to believe.”

Lottner will play second-seeded Belinda Bencic of Switzerland in the girls’ final on Saturday.

Bencic, who is coached by her father, Ivan, and Melanie Molitor, the mother of Martina Hingis, didn’t have as easy a road to the semifinal as Lottner did.

Bencic had to come through a tough three-set battle against unseeded Louisa Chirico of the USA before securing a 75 36 63 victory.

“It was tough like every match, and the second set wasn’t very good,” Bencic said. “But in the third set it was okay.”

Bencic had to battle back from a 2-5 deficit to take Chirico out of the first set. But the disappointment of not taking advantage of that 5-2 lead in the first set didn’t tame Chirico. The American kept her mind on the match to eventually prevail in the second set. Chirico saved three break points in the ninth game when serving for the second set, and then took advantage of a winning backhand drop shot on a second set point to force the third set.

The third set took Bencic some time to win after she failed to finish the match when serving at 5-1. When she served for the match again at 5-3, she made sure to close it out for her first Grand Slam junior final.

“At 5-1 I knew that she would play without pressure and that’s what happened,” Bencic said. “She played really good shots until 5-3, and at 5-3, I got a bit nervous but with my serve I could finish it up good.”

The boys’ final, which will also be staged on Saturday, features fourth-seeded Alexander Zverev of Germany against unseeded Christian Garin of Chile.

The 16-year-old Zverev moved into his first Grand Slam final -- his only other Grand Slam tournament was this year’s Australian Open where he lost in the first round -- by recording a 75 61 win over second-seeded Nikola Milojevic of Serbia.

“Seven weeks ago I wasn’t even sure I’d get into qualies and now I’m in a Grand Slam final, so it’s a big move for me in those past two months,” Zverev said. “I hope I can win tomorrow.”

Zverev, whose older brother Mischa plays on the ATP Tour, posted excellent results the last two months to make the leap that allowed him to be seeded here. He won the Grade 1 Beaulieu Sur Mer tournnament, reached the final of the Grade 2 Citta’ Di Prato, and won the Grade A Trofeo Bonfiglio in Milan ahead of Roland Garros.

“I probably stopped thinking so much,” Zverev said. “Before I was always like, ‘You have to win one more round to get points,’ or “You have to win that to get into that,’ and I just kind of gave up. I was thinking about the whole situation, and after that I just started playing and just looking at my opponent and win the next match.”

The 17-year-old Garin put up a 75 62 semifinal win over eighth-seeded Borna Coric of Croatia. Garin admitted that he had difficulty finding a comfort level in the first set, but once that was secure he felt more empowered in the match.

“It was a tough start because he played really good in the first game,” Garin said. “I start a break down because he was serving good and returning good. I knew I had to play bigger points and play aggressive. When I win the first set I take chances in the second set and I broke in the first game and kept playing really good.”

Garin’s playing in his fourth Grand Slam junior event and his best previous performance was reaching the second round at the 2012 Wimbledon and U.S. Open. It’s no surprise then that he’s quite thrilled with how he’s playing in Paris.

“It’s my first Roland Garros and I’m in the final -- it’s a good experience,” Garin said. “I love this tournament.”

Here are some observations related to the four Roland Garros junior singles finalists.

If Bencic wins she’ll become the No. 1 ranked junior girl, but if she loses the final she’ll remain No. 2. She will become the first Swiss girl since Martina Hingis in 1993 and 1994 to win the Roland Garros junior girls’ trophy. Hingis, who also won the 1994 Wimbledon junior girls’ trophy, is the only Swiss girl to win Grand Slam junior titles.

If Lottner wins, she’ll be the second consecutive German girl to win the Roland Garros junior girl trophy. Annika Beck of Germany beat Anna Schmiedlova of Slovakia to win last year’s final. Before Beck, Germany’s Anna-Lena Groenefeld won the 2003 junior title in Paris. Steffi Graf never won the junior title at Roland Garros, but won the women’s trophy here four times.

If Zverev wins, he’ll be the first German player to win the boys’ title here since Daniel Elsner in 1997. Six-time Grand Slam champion Boris Becker never won a Grand Slam junior title and never won the men’s title at Roland Garros, where his best showing was reaching the semifinals three times.

If Garin wins, he’d be the first Chilean since Fernando Gonzalez in 1998 to win the Roland Garros boys’ title. Garin would be only the third Chilean to win a Grand Slam junior boys’ title -- Marcelo Rios won the junior crown at the 1993 U.S. Open.