By Sandra Harwitt
After a week of the pros having the Wimbledon courts all to themselves it will be time for the juniors to get underway on Saturday.
The juniors are the folks hoping to be the stars of the future and coming to Wimbledon provides them with a taste of things to come. But making it in the real world — the world of millionaire professional athletes — isn’t so easy.
One can be a junior star and never materialize into a complete enough player to make it in the big leagues. But for each and every junior here, who has dedicated the bulk of their young lives to the prospect of a career in the game, there’s a reason to believe and the right to try.
Being in the pros is no easy road to hoe. It might seem to be simple — hit a few balls, win a few matches, make a few million. But, alas, it’s not that simple. And what many youngsters don’t realize is that there’s much more behind the scenes responsibilities to attend to as well.
In that effort the ITF junior development crew try to help prepare teens in tennis in the best possible way to survive in the big, bad world of tennis.
On Thursday evening, the ITF put on a program for the kiddies — the 12th ITF Roehampton Player Educational Forum — to help the juniors understand some of the off-court pressures and problems surrounding the game. To be honest, it was a bit of what the juniors would probably describe as dry subject-matter for a bunch of teens who would’ve liked to be doing something else.
But the truth is that those kids who paid attention learned about some pretty important issues regarding playing tennis as a career. They heard about forbidden drug use on tour and not just regarding drugs that some people use as recreational devices. There’s some medicines that are normal prescriptions for many that are ruled out for pro athletes because of the possibility that an element in the drug could enhance athletic performance.
Other pertinent information — and very informative even for adults — was a chat on traveling the world safely. Let’s be real here — most teens are worried about finding a way home from a friends house if they’re not of driving age or without a car, and mom and dad weren’t available for a ride. International junior tennis stars can’t phone home for the parents to retrieve them a continent away. As these teens are earning their stripes traveling the globe, they often can be doing so alone. They need to have a maturity in knowing how to navigate airports, hotels, cities in a way that many adults can’t even handle.
Other subjects touched on is why playing college tennis in the United States on a tennis scholarship can be a golden opportunity for expert coaching and competition, how to stay clear of being a party to illegal match fixing, and how to choose an agent that is going to work for you instead of your working for them.
Those formalities now set aside, it’s time for the juniors to go back to the basics of playing tennis.
In the boys’ draw, top seed Andrey Rublev is hoping to score a back-to-back French Open and Wimbledon win. The 16-year-old Russian was the French champion with a 6-2, 7-5 final victory over Jaume Antoni Munar of Spain.
There are a number of junior boys’ to keep tabs on beyond Rublev and the fourth-seeded Munar. Representing the United States of particular note is sixth seed Stefan Kozlov, seventh seed Francis Tiafoe and Noah Rubin, who had to play qualifying because his initial plan to no longer play the juniors after last year’s U.S. Open left him without enough junior points and/or a high enough ATP ranking to be straight in the draw.
The Frenchies — fifth seed Quentin Halys and eight seed Johan Sebastien Tatlot are strong contendors as well.
The girls’ competition will not feature recent French Open champion Darya Kasatkina of Russia as she declared that Roland Garros was her last junior tournament even before the event started.
So the top seeding for the girls goes to Serbian Ivana Jorovic, who went home from Paris with the runners-up trophy. She’s got a lot of style on the court so it will be interesting to see how she fares on the grass.
American Catherine Cartan Bellis, who is having an excellent junior season, is the second seed. She has American company with third seed Alicia Black (We won’t call her Tornado here).
Switzerland’s Jill Belen Teichmann is the fifth seed and has also been doing well on the junior circuit in 2014, as has fourth seed Aliona Bolsova Zadoinov. A couple of others to watch are sixth seed Iryna Shymanovich of Belarus and eighth seed Kristina Schmiedlova of Slovakia.
So for fans coming out to Wimbledon who might not have tony tickets to Centre Court or Court 1 and are relying on entertainment around the grounds, check out some of the junior action. You could be observing your favorite player for the future.