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.”
Monte-Carlo Masters Sunday Preview: Stefanos Tsitsipas and Andrey Rublev Battle for their First Masters Title
The winner of Sunday’s singles championship will also hold the No.1 ranking in the 2021 ATP Race to Turin.
Since the start of 2020, no one has won more matches than Andrey Rublev. The 23-year-old is now 65-14 over the past 16 months, with six titles (seven if you include the ATP Cup, a team event). He has been racking up 250 and 500-level trophies. But perhaps his biggest win yet came on Friday, as he earned his first victory over his idol, Rafael Nadal. Rublev has now reached his first Masters 1000 final, and he’s been simply stellar on recent championship Sundays. Andrey has won his last seven finals, and has dropped only one set in those matches. That one set was dropped to his opponent today, in a heartbreaking loss for Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Last September in Hamburg, Tsitsipas unsuccessfully served for the title at 5-3 in the third. That came just a few weeks after another devastating defeat for the Greek. At the US Open, he was up two-sets-to-one and two breaks against Borna Coric, but Tsitsipas would fail to convert six match points, succumbing to defeat in a fifth set tiebreak after nearly five hours. Just two days after the loss in Hamburg, Stefanos found himself down two-sets-to-love in the first round of Roland Garros. However, the 22-year-old survived on that day, and went on to reach the semifinals, avenging his loss to Rublev along the way. Stefanos would equal that result at this year’s Australian Open, and has now advanced to his third Masters 1000 final.
Sunday’s play will begin at 12:00pm local time with the doubles championship, followed by the singles final not before 2:30pm. However, there is a chance of rain throughout the afternoon in Monte-Carlo.
Stefanos Tsitsipas (4) vs. Andrey Rublev (6)
They have split six previous tour-level meetings, and also split their two clay court encounters. Four of those six matches occurred since September of last year, and they’ve split those as well. Their recent history starts with the aforementioned Hamburg final, which Rublev claimed 7-5 in the third. Less than two weeks later, Tsitsipas avenged that loss in the Roland Garros quarterfinals, defeating Rublev in straight sets. In the round robin stage of the ATP Finals, Tsitsipas again prevailed, this time in a third set tiebreak. And just last month in Rotterdam, Rublev was victorious in straights. With each gaining recent wins on different surfaces, as well as both indoors and outdoors, their rivalry has been extremely even.
Tsitsipas has advanced much more easily this week, comfortably capturing all seven sets he’s played. And he’s spent about three less hours on court than Rublev, who fought through three-setters against both Nadal and Roberto Bautista Agut. But that also highlights the tougher road Rublev has faced, which included two top 10 players. Tsitsipas is yet to face a player ranked inside the top 20.
In looking at their two recent clay court clashes, the player whose second serve percentage dropped below 50% lost the match. In Hamburg, Tsitsipas was down at 40%, while in Paris, Rublev was down at 38%. As Jim Courier highlighted on Tennis Channel, no top 50 player has a bigger discrepancy between their first and second serve speeds than Rublev. It will be crucial for Andrey to hit a high percentage of first serves, and avoid striking passive second serves.
But in one of the biggest matches of their careers to date, the way they handle this moment may be the most important factor. Stefanos certainly has the experience edge on bigger stages like this. He’s reached three Major semifinals, two previous Masters finals, and was the 2019 ATP Finals champion. While Rublev hasn’t attained any of those milestones yet, his dominance in recent 250 and 500-level finals may be a huge confidence boost on Sunday. By contrast, Tsitsipas has struggled in championship matches. He’s just 5-8 in his career, and has lost his last three, which includes the Hamburg loss at the hands of Rublev. And most concerning is Stefanos’ dismal 1-8 record in finals played outdoors. Based on those shortcomings, as well as Rublev’s wins over tough competition this week, I slightly favor the red-headed Russian to win his first Masters 1000 title.
Other Notable Matches on Sunday:
Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic (2) vs. Dan Evans and Neal Skupski – Mektic and Pavic are 28-3 on the year, and are already vying for their fifth title. This is only Evans and Skupski’s second tournament as a team, and yet their second time making the final, as they did the same in Miami two weeks ago. And this is also Evans’ 10th match of the week.
Sunday’s full Order of Play is here.
Canada Sweeps Serbia to advance to Billie Jean King Cup Qualifiers
Leylah Fernandez sealed Canada’s place in the Billie Jean King Qualifiers.
Leylah Fernandez beat Nina Stojanovic in the third singles match to seal the tie for Canada.
Canada has booked a spot in the 2022 Billie Jean King Cup qualifiers after beating Serbia 3-0 after Leylah Fernandez beat Nina Stojanovic in three tight sets 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 in a match that last two hours and 46 minutes with the Canadian hitting 31 winners.
“I’m honestly very proud of myself that I was able to push through the nerves of this match, It wasn’t going to be easy with the way that she played at the beginning of the first set and it proved how great of a player she is, today I tried to fight through everything, the Serbian team, my emotions and I was happy that I was able to pull through in the third set with all the match points I missed and then when the lights went out that was a moment to remember but I’m glad I was able to just get the win for Canada and for us to qualify for the next round.”
Both players did a good job holding serve the first couple games and we didn’t see a breakpoint until 2-2 when the Serb had three looks and managed to convert at the third time of asking to take a 3-2 lead.
At 5-3 with Fernandez serving to stay in the set Stojanovic picked up her level and earned two set points on the Canadian serve and managed to seal the set on the second opportunity to take a one set lead.
The Canadian kept fighting despite the fact she was down and in the first game of the second set she earned a breakpoint but was unable to convert. The Serb continued to play well and earned two breakpoints at 2-1 and broke to take a 3-1 lead.
Once again the Montreal native battled and managed to get the break back the very next game playing some great tennis. She would earn the crucial break to take a 4-3 lead and would break once again to win the second set on her opponent’s service game.
Before the third set would commence Stojanovic would call the trainer and take a medical timeout to have work done on her foot. Despite that she was able to break the Canadian in the first game of the final set as Fernandez had a poor service game.
The Canadian once again using her fighting spirit and determination not to give up earned six breakpoints in a very long service game that lasted 10 minutes but was finally able to get the break back.
The next game the Serb tried to regain her lead and earned two more breakpoints but the Canadian hung in and saved both and would hold serve.
At 3-3 the Serb kept pushing for the breakthrough and earned another breakpoint but the Canadian once again saved it. The very next game it was the Montreal native turn to have a chance to break and at the second time of asking the Canadian would break with a superb passing shot to take a 5-3 lead and serve for the match and the tie.
Another poor service game followed and Fernandez was broken at love and the next game the Canadian had five match points but the Serb saved all five. Then out of nowhere the lights went out and there was a 10-15 minute delay to resolve the issue.
After the short delay the Canadian would earn a sixth match point and this time she would win it to seal the win and the tie for Canada. With the tie sealed the two countries decided to play doubles for the dead rubber and it was Rebecca Marino and Carol Zhao who faced off against Aleksandra Krunic and Ivana Jorovic and it was the Canadians who would come back from a set down to win 6-7, 6-3, 10-0 to make it 4-0 Canada after two days of action.
After the final doubles match Hedi El Tabakh spoke to the Canadian media and gave her final thoughts of the tie this weekend.
“It was a battle from start to finish, I know the score-line is 4-0 but it was much closer than that, were up 2-0, two tough matches yesterday and we were able to pull it off, and obviously Leylah match today was the decider, in my opinion, it could have swung either way so it was a battle till the end, Nina played incredible tennis and congrats to her for all her work on the court, she improved a ton and she’s broken the top 100 so Leylah had to earn it today so I’m really happy with the way things turned out for us and couldn’t ask for a better result”.
She told Ubitennis afterwards if she thinks it was her best tie so far as captain of team Canada.
“This was the toughest, I mean for us to come back and win these last two ties was huge and the way the girls performed on the court was very satisfying and this was a very important tie for us so I am pleased with the way we handled things this week, everything was smooth from start to finish, the girls had a great week of practicing leading up to the matches and they were match ready and they delivered which was big and we needed that and I congratulate them for that”
Ons Jabeur Seeks Revenge On Kovinic In Charleston Semis
Ons Jabeur will be seeking revenge in the semi-finals of the MUSC Health Women’s Open.
Ons Jabeur is looking for revenge on Danka Kovinic as they meet in Charleston for the second week in a row.
The Tunisian will look to gain some revenge after losing to Kovinic in the Volvo Car Open semi-finals 6-3 6-2 as the Montenegrin levelled their head-to-head record.
Now on the same court in the same round, Jabeur and Kovinic meet again after the top seed dismantled Nao Hibino 6-0 6-1 in 45 minutes while Kovinic defeated the third seed Shelby Rogers 7-5 6-1.
Speaking to reporters on Friday Jabeur hopes that her more dominating play this week will work in her favour, “That was the main goal today for me, to be more aggressive and very dominant on the court,” Jabeur said.
“I tried to use my forehand as much as I can. That was the plan for me today. Obviously, it worked pretty good.
“I’m definitely going for my revenge. I’m going to really play like I never played before. I really want this win. I will be brave and not let the stress play the match for me.”
Jabeur has won 17 of her 24 matches in 2021 and is in confident mood as she approaches the European clay-court swing.
Only Garbine Muguruza can boast more wins this season which is a testament to Jabeur’s hard work and improved consistency.
As for Kovinic consistency is something that she is very proud of this week regardless of whether she reaches the final or not, “Definitely feels good, because this is first time in my career I had a really good week and then the following week I’m still playing good and competing,” Kovinic told the WTA website.
“I still have this fire to beat everyone on the court. It is good for me after the big tournament last week that I’m already on the court keeping my mind busy. It’s not all you, know everywhere. It’s still on the tennis court.”
So far this season Kovinic has won more matches than in the last two seasons combined as she looks to seal her place in the world’s top 60 next week.
The other semi-final in Charleston is Bogota champion Maria Camila Osorio Serrano taking on Astra Sharma. The semi-finals start at 19:00 BST time.
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