Friday 4 January 2013
Which youngsters could be the ones climbing the rankings as the 2013 season gets under way? Wimbledon.com suggests six to watch...
1. Donna Vekic. The premiere is happening at Melbourne Park: this month's Australian Open will see the 16-year-old Croat making her first appearance in the main draw of a senior Grand Slam. Vekic, who is coached by David Felgate, Tim Henman's former coach, stopped playing junior tennis after losing in the quarter-finals of last season's girls' tournament at Wimbledon. "I decided my junior tennis was over and wanted to concentrate on the senior circuit. It's a totally different ball game - I felt more adjusted to the senior level. I feel comfortable. I don't think like a 16-year-old. In tennis one has to grow fast, and I think I have matured fast. I love tennis and want to be playing." Vekic reached the final of last year's WTA tournament in Tashkent, becoming the youngest finalist on the full circuit for six years.
2. Thanasi Kokkinakis. You don't have to speak fluent Australian to understand what one coach meant when he said this of Kokkinakis: "He's a gun." The 16-year-old Australian alerted the wider tennis world to his talent with an appearance at the Hopman Cup, stepping in for the injured America's John Isner to play Fernando Verdasco of Spain. Verdasco was impressed: "I've been practising with him and I know he's 16 years old but he has a great stroke that normally 16-year-old guys don't have. The serve that he has is like a professional's, much better than many professionals. He will be a great player if he can keep going like that."
3. Annika Beck. The winner of last year's junior French Open singles title, the 18-year-old German reached the quarter-finals of this week's tournament in Shenzhen in China. Beck's parents are both chemistry professors at the University of Bonn, and she relaxes by playing the violin.
4. Filip Peliwo. The Canadian teenager (pictured above with the Wimbledon trophy) played in all four junior Grand Slam finals last season, finishing as the runner-up at the Australian and French Opens, and winning the Wimbledon and US Open titles. "That definitely gives me a lot of confidence going into the men's circuit, but at the same time I do have to be cautious about getting over-confident and not putting in the effort. I just need to keep working as hard as I can to improve and to achieve my goals. My ambitions for 2013 are to make the top 250, hopefully better, win a Futures, win a Challenger and play some ATP events," said Peliwo, the junior world champion. "I think my strengths are my speed, returns, groundstrokes, and even my serve. Definitely my competitive attitude is something that has got me through a lot of tough matches as well. My favourite Slam is Wimbledon."
5. Monica Puig. Puerto Rico isn't known for producing tennis players. But there can be no doubt that Puig, who was a junior finalist at the 2011 Australian and French Opens, is a talent. She qualified for this week's tournament in Brisbane.
6. Taylor Townsend. She was the first American for 30 years to hold the No.1 year-end ranking in the juniors. The support she received from Serena Williams, during last summer's controversy over her fitness levels, was of huge help. "Honestly I can't even express how amazing it has been to have had Serena's support. She is such a powerful advocate and her speaking up for me just gave me more fuel to keep things rolling. She has been and still is such an inspiration in my life. Her determination, mental toughness and feistiness are all things that I admire in her and try to incorporate in my own game as well," said the 16-year-old, who knows that making the transition from the juniors won't be easy. "I think you can get away with a lot of things on the junior level that you can't get away with in the pros. You can get by with skill on the junior side, but everyone has skill on the pro level. You have to be able to hang physically and mentally with people who can have many more years of experience than you."
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