Is winning a Junior Slam the start of a brilliant career or a great delusion? This is the question we are always asking when we see a promising 17-year-old lifting a coveted trophy. Just at that moment, the most delicate phase for a young athlete approaching the professional ranks begins. He or she has to make a lot of changes: to leave the comfort zone of the junior circuit, the familiar faces of peers who have often also become friends, the club that coddle them and the support of their national federation. Once it’s all over, you suddenly find yourself having to face an unknown world, all alone. Many expectations (coming from your family, the media, and even from your own ego) threaten to saddle you with an unbearable baggage of anxiety. And on top of this, the technical transition from the juniors to the pros requires a solid guide to help you work on your game, sacrificing short-term results.
EDBERG AND THE OTHERS – Over the years, we have really seen everything, from Stefan Edberg, who achieved the “Junior Grand Slam” in 1983 and then excelled on the ATP Tour, to many players who instead fell into anonymity, sometimes quitting tennis prematurely. Here we certainly won’t try to provide a definitive diagnosis of why this happens – we will simply analyse what has happened in the last 32 years from a statistical point of view. You may wonder why we have chosen a 32-year interval. 1988 was set as the beginning of our research because from that year the Australian Open has been played on hard-court, after already reverting to a January start date in 1987 in an attempt to recover the relevance it had seemingly lost in the previous decade. The tournament had become the least competitive among the Grand Slams, both at the professional (i.e. Borg played the Australian Open only once) and junior levels. The change of date and the surface switch at Flinders Park helped to rebalance the situation and to give equal dignity to the Australian Open.
We also must keep in mind, as an essential premise, that the strongest U-18 athletes often don’t play junior tournaments, either by technical choice or because they are already winning at the higher level. Borg won the French Open when he was 18; Becker won Wimbledon at 17 and Wilander won Paris at 17, not to mention McEnroe who reached the semi-finals at Wimbledon starting from the qualifying round when he was 18. Thus, they obviously did not have a junior career, with the exception of Mats Wilander, who won the Junior Roland Garros the year before bagging the real thing – sort of a world record with regards to the speed and seamlessness of the transition from the youth competitions to the pros. More recently, Nadal and Djokovic achieved the semi-final as their best result, respectively at Wimbledon and the Australian Open. Federer (Wimbledon champion in 1998 and US Open semi-finalist the same year) and Lendl (Wimbledon and Roland Garros 1978) did better than Nadal and Djokovic. As mentioned, Stefan Edberg took his junior career seriously – in 1983, he achieved the Junior Grand Slam.
What does this data illustrate? Here you can find the tables that list all the winners of the four junior Slams from 1988 to 2020. Starting from these data, we calculated the ratio of the best ranking reached by the winners once they turned pro. The caveats in this analysis are the following: we excluded from the calculation the worst five performers for each tournament (highlighted in red in the tables) and by default the winners of the two Junior Slams played in 2020, considering that they are still too young. We considered misleading for the purposes of the analysis to include in the dataset the results reached by players who have completely failed, sometimes quitting the game early.
Considering the 27 best results for each Slam, sorting the four Slams from the one with the lowest to the highest average ranking, the following are the results:
1. US Open: 37.55 (median value 17)
2. Roland Garros: 47.88 (median value 21)
3. Wimbledon: 63.85 (median value 39)
4. Australian Open: 77.29 (median value 83)
It seems clear that the US Open’s young winners are likelier to have a better career. On the other hand, the Australian Open is the only Grand Slam whose median value is higher than average: it means that those who have obtained a worse than average best ranking outweigh those who have obtained a better one.
THE COACHES’ OPINION
Here’s the opinion of Simone Tartarini, the coach of Lorenzo Musetti, a player who is currently facing the aforementioned adjustments related to turning pro: “The Australian Open has always been an overlooked tournament (among pros and juniors alike), especially due to the complexity and cost of the trip. This year in Australia, I was talking to Ljubicic and he told me that, when he came here for the first time at 18, it was enough to have a ranking of 800 to play in the qualies. Nowadays, they would not even let you be a ball boy with that kind of background. In any case, a ranking average of 80 is worthy of some consideration because a player who is in the Top 100 still manages to make a living out of tennis.”
“As for Paris,” he continued, “I don’t know if what I say has a scientific basis, but in that tournament I have often seen some boys (especially Argentinians and Spaniards) who are already physically well-developed play against a frail boy who looked like he was still in eighth grade. Then it often happened that a couple of years later the boy grew up and overtook them thanks to his greater talent. The US Open is at the top of the ranking because we could probably call it the most universal and therefore the most coveted event. Nobody wants to miss it, and if the boy has a predisposition for hardcourts, once he turns pro that surface will be the one where most of the tournaments will be played and where he’ll build his ranking. As for Wimbledon, I would not know, it is probably the same concept, just in reverse. If at 17 you discover that you are a great grass court player, you will have few tournaments to show it as a pro.”
Finally, he added: “However that may be, the time of this transition is very dangerous, and I am happy that Lorenzo has now left it behind. I define the ranking between 200 and 500 as ‘the swamp’ – getting stuck in it is very easy. For example, last year at the Challenger in Pordenone there were seven Junior Slam winners, people aged 25/29. Players who have not followed through on their tennis talent, players who thought that they could make it without hard work, while failing to understand that at the junior level you often win for the opponent’s demerit. As a professional, you have to hit much harder and earn every point.”
Let us hear another renowned opinion. Fabio Gorietti, former Boys’ Wimbledon champion Gianluigi Quinzi’s coach for two years, stated in a recent interview: “Gianluigi was aware that he had an excellent level for the junior circuit, and he thought it would be enough to train to quickly get to the pro level. He would have needed to change his game, to evolve, to become more complete in order to have more solutions throughout matches. A talented junior player must get rid of the tactics that brought him so many points when he played in junior tournaments, because he will often discover that he will not achieve the same results playing against a pro. And he has to be able to go to the detriment of on-court results in the short term.”
Indian Wells Daily Preview: The Women’s Semifinals
Friday evening will host the women’s singles semifinals. The first features two Major champions: Jelena Ostapenko and Victoria Azarenka. The second includes two good friends who are both looking to achieve their first WTA 1000 final: Ons Jabeur and Paula Badosa.
Also on Friday, the last two men’s singles quarterfinals will be decided. Will Stefanos Tsitsipas and Sascha Zverev prevail against two players making their Masters 1000 quarterfinal debuts, setting up a blockbuster semifinal on Saturday?
Each day, this preview will analyze the two most intriguing matchups, while highlighting other notable matches on the schedule. Friday’s play gets underway at 11:00am local time.
Jelena Ostapenko (24) vs. Victoria Azarenka (27) – Not Before 6:00pm on Stadium 1
Azarenka is a two-time champion of this event, though prior to this fortnight, she was only 2-2 in the desert since her last title run in 2016. Injuries have derailed her progress throughout this season, but she has been in fine form this tournament, not dropping a set through four rounds. Ostapenko was just 4-3 lifetime at Indian Wells before this year, and was a modest 23-15 on the season when she was withdrawn from the US Open due to undisclosed medical reasons. But this past month, she’s gone 9-2, and is a win away from her third WTA 1000 final. Their only previous encounter came two years ago at Roland Garros, when Azarenka prevailed in straight sets. Like most Ostapenko matches, this will mostly be decided by her winner-to-error ratio. When she starts making errors, she can become awfully negative real fast. But based on her current form, I expect Jelena to remain confident, and dictate her way to Sunday’s championship match.
Ons Jabeur (12) vs. Paula Badosa (21) – Last on Stadium 1
With Thursday’s quarterfinal win, Jabeur will officially become the first Arab player (male or female) to debut inside the top 10 on Monday. It’s been an incredible season for Ons, who has accumulated 48 wins, and is 8-1 over the last three weeks. Badosa is now into her second WTA 1000 semifinal of the year, equalling the feat she first accomplished in Madrid, her country’s biggest tournament. Paula has consecutively defeated three of 2021’s best players without dropping a set: Coco Gauff, Barbora Krejcikova, and Angelique Kerber. These two friends played earlier this year at another American WTA 1000 event, when Jabeur outlasted Badosa in Miami 7-5 in the third. Infused with the excitement of making her top 10 debut, I expect the more experienced and eclectic Ons to find a way to overcome Badosa, and to play in the biggest final of her career come Sunday.
Other Notable Matches on Friday:
Stefanos Tsitsipas (2) vs. Nikoloz Basilashvili (29) – Tsitsipas leads their head-to-head 2-0. Both matches occurred on hard courts in 2019, and both were quite tight. Basilashvili ousted Karen Khachanov in the last round.
Sascha Zverev (3) vs. Taylor Fritz (31) – Zverev is 3-1 against Fritz, though they are 1-1 on hard courts. Their most recent meeting on this surface went to the American, two years ago in Basel. This week Taylor upset the two top-ranked Italians: Matteo Berrettini and Jannik Sinner.
Friday’s full Order of Play is here.
Grigor Dimitrov Praises ‘Surreal’ Achievement Ahead Of Indian Wells Semis
Grigor Dimitrov hailed his recent career milestone as he moved into the Indian Wells semi-finals.
Grigor Dimitrov has praised his recent career milestone after reaching the Indian Wells semi-finals.
The Bulgarian overcame Miami Open champion Hubert Hurkacz in three sets to reach the semi-finals at Indian Wells.
Dimitrov backed his win over US Open champion Daniil Medvedev in style to reach his first masters 1000 semi-final of the season.
However reaching the semi-finals wasn’t the only achievement as he sealed his 100th masters 1000 win of his career.
Speaking after the match Dimitrov described it as ‘surreal’, “I didn’t know until everyone started mentioning it now,” Dimitrov said in his post-match press conference.
“Really I’m very humbled. It’s such an amazing thing. I’m so thankful to everyone, to everybody that is in the team, that has worked in the team. Last but not least my family.
“It feels like I want to say surreal because I never thought turning pro that I’m going to have let’s say a hundred matches at such a level. I’m very fortunate to be able to put myself in that position over and over, especially throughout the tough years, injuries and so on.
“It clearly means a lot to me. I really appreciate it. I’m very, very humbled on it. Like I’m smiling inside. I’m smiling inside. I think it’s a beautiful thing. I’ll keep on going hopefully another decade.”
Dimitrov’s first masters 1000 win came against Marsel Ilhan in 2011 at Cincinnati and the Bulgarian’s only trophy at this level came in 2017 when he beat Nick Kyrgios in the final of the same tournament.
Now Dimitrov will look to win his second masters 1000 title of his career as he takes on Cameron Norrie in the last four on Saturday.
Norrie currently leads the head-to-head 1-0.
Indian Wells Daily Preview: Two Women’s Quarterfinals Feature Four of 2021’s Best Players
Angelique Kerber has won 20 of her last 24 matches. Anett Kontaveit has claimed 16 of her last 17, which includes two titles. Paula Badosa is 38-15 on the year, and 8-3 against the top 20. Ons Jabeur is on the cusp of becoming the first Arab player to reach the top 10. Which two of these four impressive performers will reach Friday’s semifinals?
Also on Wednesday, the first two men’s singles quarterfinals will be contested, with significant implications as to who will qualify for next month’s ATP Finals. And in the doubles, the final two men’s quarterfinals will be played, alongside the women’s semifinals.
Each day, this preview will analyze the two most intriguing matchups, while highlighting other notable matches on the schedule. Thursday’s play gets underway at 11:00am local time.
Ons Jabeur (12) vs. Anett Kontaveit (18) – Not Before 3:00pm on Stadium 1
A win today would guarantee Jabeur’s top 10 debut next week. But that will be a tough ask against the WTA’s hottest player of the last two months. Since adding Dmitry Tursonov as her coach, who previously guided Aryna Sabalenka during her rise to the top of the sport, Kontaveit has been on fire. She was the champion in both Cleveland and Ostrava, with her only loss coming at the US Open against another of 2021’s best players, Iga Swiatek. Anett has not dropped a set through three rounds, though Jabeur has been dominant as well, allowing her last two opponents only eight games across four sets. Ons has taken both of their previous tour-level encounters, and she’s the last person not named Iga to defeat Kontaveit. Two months ago in Cincinnati, she outlasted Anett 7-5 in the third. But based on Kontaveit’s current level of confidence, I give her the slight edge to advance after what I expect to be a tenacious battle with some grueling rallies on these slow-playing courts.
Angelique Kerber (10) vs. Paula Badosa (21) – Not Before 6:00pm on Stadium 1
This will be the first career meeting between the three-time Major champ and the 23-year-old Spaniard, who has had a tremendous year despite a terrible start. Upon arriving in Melbourne, Badosa tested positive for COVID, which forced her to spend three weeks in full quarantine. But she’s now vying for her fifth semifinal of the season, and her first since May. Kerber had a pretty miserable season until June, and even pondered retiring from the sport. However, she has been an entirely different player since the grass court season. Her only losses since mid-June have come against world No.1 Ash Barty, or fellow lefties (Leylah Fernandez, Jil Teichmann). But these court speeds are not conducive to Angie’s game. They are playing more at the speed of a clay court, and that’s never been her best surface. By contrast, Badosa thrives on clay, compiling a record of 17-3 this year. In the last round, Paula defeated Barbora Krejcikova in straight sets, and Krejickova has been one of 2021’s toughest outs. I like Badosa’s chance of achieving her fifth semifinal of the season.
Other Notable Matches on Thursday:
Diego Schwartzman (11) vs. Cameron Norrie (21) – Schwartzman easily dispatched of Casper Ruud on Wednesday. Norrie has won three consecutive three-setters this fortnight. Cam leads their head-to-head 2-1, which includes a four-hour, five-set victory at last year’s US Open.
Hubert Hurkacz (8) vs. Grigor Dimitrov (23) – Hurkacz was a semifinalist here in 2019. Dimitrov pulled off an incredible comeback on Wednesday, after falling behind a set and two breaks against top-seeded Daniil Medvedev.
Su-Wei Hsieh and Elise Mertens (2) vs. Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara (3) – When these two teams met in the Wimbledon semifinals, Hsieh and Mertens prevailed 6-3 in the third.
Rohan Bopanna and Denis Shapovalov vs. Aslan Karatsev and Andrey Rublev – This quarterfinal features three players in the top 15 of the Race to Turin singles rankings. The last time Karatsev and Rublev teamed up, this past March in Qatar, they won the title.
Thursday’s full Order of Play is here.
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