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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Australian Open Junior Qualifying into Final Round; Luck, Hype and Madison Keys

The final round qualifying for the Australian Open junior championships is Thursday, with the main draw beginning on Saturday at Melbourne Park.  As I've mentioned before, US players are few in Australia this year. Luke Gamble made the trip Down Under, but he was the only US junior in the qualifying, and he lost to Alexander Zverev of Germany in the second round. Unlike the other junior slams, the Australian is a 48-player draw, which I don't really understand, because they rarely fill it.

There are some excellent players in qualifying however. I was impressed by 14-year-old Olga Fridman of Ukraine this year at the Eddie Herr and Orange Bowl on the girls side, and in the No. 2 seed in the boys qualifying, 14-year-old Duck Hee Lee, is the youngest player in the ITF Top 100. Lee, the 2012 Eddie Herr 12s champion, has continued his rise in the ITF junior rankings despite being deaf, and last week he won a Grade 3 in India.

The qualifying draws are available at the ITF junior website. And for a story on one of the US players in the main draw, see this article on Jamie Loeb, who did not play in Traralgon.

At the Grade 1 Loy Yang in Traralgon, No. 2 seed Antonia Lottner of Germany will meet No. 5 seed Anna Danilina of Kazakhstan for the girls title, while No. 6 seed Wayne Montgomery of South Africa will face No. 2 seed Nick Kyrgios of Australia for the boys title.

Thursday's action at the Australian Open was both riveting and sad. The Jerzy Janowicz - Somdev Devvarman match was full of drama and at times, outstanding tennis, with the 22-year-old from Poland pulling out a 6-7(10), 3-6, 6-1, 6-0, 7-5 victory over the two-time NCAA champion from Viriginia, who is just returning to competition after a long layoff due to shoulder surgery.  The sad news was Brian Baker's injury during his match with Sam Querrey. After winning the first set in a tiebreaker, Baker hurt his knee, which gave way during a routine point. Baker has been diagnosed with a torn lateral meniscus and will need surgery, but could return in three or four months. For more, see this article at ESPN.

Keys after winning the USTA Australian Open Wild Card Tournament

Most of the superlatives of the day came after Madison Keys rolled past No. 30 seed Tamira Paszek of Austria 6-2, 6-1 in less than hour, continuing her outstanding play this month.  The ESPN and Tennis Channel commentators were effusive in their praise of her serve in particular, and projections that she would be Top 10 and a grand slam champion surfaced on the air and on twitter. A few people I follow are disturbed by this hype, and it's not difficult to understand why.  Recent history has given us Donald Young and Melanie Oudin, and eager Americans can be prone to see the next Sampras or Serena in every player who posts a few impressive results. 

Courtney Nguyen at Sports Illustrated provides five reasons to believe the Keys hype, while her colleague Jon Wertheim reminds us just how much a country's tennis fortunes rely on luck.

Christopher Clarey of the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times acknowledges the dilemma, and Keys' agent, Max Eisenbud of IMG, believes Sloane Stephens, who is nearly two years older, can help Keys simply by absorbing some of the attention that is always focused on an American star.

Clarey doesn't confine his article to Keys, but also looks at 16-year-old Donna Vekic, and talks to Chris Evert, who is convinced  the days of a teenager dominating grand slams is over.

My two cents: Keys is not hype. She has the game to win on the WTA tour, and she has proven that this month. The WTA age restrictions have undoubtedly helped her stay out of the spotlight the past few years while she's worked on her game, both physically and mentally, and given her the opportunity to suffer losses on the Pro Circuit level that didn't destroy her confidence.  She has also had her share of ill health and injuries, which doesn't mean that she's free of those setbacks, anymore than it meant Brian Baker was due a healthy end to his career.  In short, there's no predicting the future--for her, or for anyone. But, staying in the moment, as players are always told to do, isn't a bad place for fans of Madison Keys right now.


tenniscoachfla said...

I agree, Keyes is the real deal. Great serve and her forehand has always had that elite pop on it, even when I saw her as a kid.

Oudin is a different deal, no real weapons, she caught some of the ranked players when they were down, so she shot up in the rankings with a few nice wins. Keyes is on another level than Oudin as far as long term top 10-20 prospects.

Brett said...

Saw Oudin play in WTT match in Philadelphia. Just doesn't seem like a top 10 type of player. Keys, on the other hand, has the kind of power that puts her opponents under a lot of pressure. I think if she stays healthy she's going far.