Sunday, July 11, 2021

Banerjee Captures Wimbledon Boys Championship, Mintegi Del Olmo Claims Historic Girls Title; Krawczyk and Skupski Earn Mixed Doubles Title

There was rain aplenty, and covid protocols meant a week confined to the junior bubble in a college dormitory. Yet for Samir Banerjee, the 2021 Wimbledon Junior Championships were a dream come true, with the 17-year-old from New Jersey claiming the boys title with a 7-5, 6-3 victory over fellow unseeded American Victor Lilov Sunday afternoon on Court One.

Banerjee had lost in the first round of last month's French Open Junior Championships, so his immediate goal in his Wimbledon debut was a first junior slam win. And after winning just one match in the Roehampton J1 tournament the week before, he had his doubts about the grass.

"I had a good doubles showing but singles wasn't great," said Banerjee, who reached the doubles final. "I was just thinking about—like I started overthinking, how would I do at Wimbledon, I don't know if I'm ready to play well on grass, all these things.

"I'm really proud of how I competed and kind of gutted out some of those tough, tough matches. I think everyone I played was really good. I mean, they're the best in the world. So, I mean, I think my competitiveness and my drive to win kind of really helped me out in those moments."

After winning a tough three-setter against qualifier Sascha Gueymard Wayenburg of France on Court One in Saturday's semifinals, Banerjee was prepared for another battle against Lilov. Although they had played three times in 12s, 14s and 16s, with Banerjee winning all three, both players had discounted those results as a factor, with their most recent match over two years ago.

Banerjee earned the first break, and was up 5-2, but Banerjee could not convert two set points in the next game and he went on to lose the next game, with unforced errors and a double fault allowing Lilov pull even again.

"I played a pretty sloppy game at 5-3, and 5-4 he played another good service game," said Banerjee, who was No. 19 in the ITF rankings coming into the tournament. "I really just had to slow down and focus on my serve. I mean, he was on a roll. I had to do something to stop that."

As he had done all week, Banerjee raised his level when necessary.

"Obviously my first serves came in very clutch for me," Banerjee said. "I hit a couple really good first serves that he didn't return. So I think that helped me out a lot. My serve got me out of a lot of tricky situations where if maybe he put the ball in play and I had to pull a point out, it could have been tougher. I think just refocusing after that, getting that 5-all game was huge. Then breaking the next game was big because I think that helped with my momentum."

Lilov was hopeful that getting back into the first set would propel him to a high level, but Banerjee got an easy hold for 6-5 and the pressure was back on.

"I thought when I broke back, got to 5-all, I just felt better about myself, but I didn't return his serve well, especially the deuce side down the T," Lilov said. "It cost me a lot of points on return. And then at 5-6, I basically crumbled."

In the second set, the sixth game again produced the break Banerjee needed, as he seemed to have no trouble reading Lilov's shots and routinely picked off passing shots for winning volleys. He didn't think his anticipation was related to his previous wins over Lilov, but rather his own commitment to and understanding of grass court tennis.

"I think it's more just adjusting to the grass throughout these two weeks," said Banerjee, who won 17 of 19 points at the net in the match. "I think I realized it's a lot of first-strike tennis. If you hit a good ball, you should come to net. That's what I really tried to do here. Unless it's an unbelievable passing shot, you will have a chance to hit a volley. Oftentimes you don't have to hit an amazing volley, you just have to feel your way around it."

As in the first set, Lilov teetered on the brink serving down 2-5, but a couple of good first serves saved the two match points and he held. 

After what had happened in the first set, Banerjee wasn't comfortable even with a 40-15 lead serving at 5-3, and he double faulted match point No. 3 away.

"I think the nerves were definitely getting to me," Banerjee said. "But I just said on my last match point, I want to make him play, I want to make him earn this point. Thankfully he gave me an error pretty early in the rally, so that was great."

Lilov admitted that he was outplayed in the final. 

"The backhand today, I thought was very good, it was pretty tough to handle." said Lilov, who is from North Carolina but is training in Delray Beach Florida now. "He served better, and he had answers to everything I did."

Banerjee is still planning on attending Columbia in 2022, although he said he will start playing more USTA and ITF men's Pro Circuit events in the coming months. The next big tournament on his schedule however is Kalamazoo, which he acknowledged he'll approach with higher expectations than he might have had prior to this week.  The question is whether his uncle Kanad Banerjee, who accompanied his nephew on the trip to London at the last minute, will be his lucky charm in Kalamazoo.

"He's not technically a tennis coach, but if these results keep happening, maybe I should start traveling with him more," Banerjee joked during his on-court interview. Banerjee, who trains privately in Sarasota Florida with Carlos Esteban, needed a travel companion in a hurry when Esteban's wife tested positive for Covid-19 and had to quarantine.

"He was happy to come," Banerjee said. "He loves London, but we knew we were going to be in a bubble so he knew we weren't going to really see much of London."

The last junior slam of Banerjee's career will be in September, much closer to his uncle's home, in New York, but for now, he needs some time to let his current accomplishment register.

"I don't think it's sunk in," Banerjee said. "It's crazy. I think I'm really happy."

While Banerjee is one of 14 US boys Wimbledon champions, Ane Mintegi Del Olmos of Spain is the first girl from her country to capture the prestigious title. The bespectacled 17-year-old defeated Nastasja Schunk of Germany 2-6, 6-4, 6-1 Sunday on Court One, a result that may have her re-thinking clay as her favorite surface.

Mintegi Del Olmos is the only one of the four finalists that had played Wimbledon prior to this year, but a first grand slam final on one of the sport's most famous courts is difficult to prepare for.

"In the first set I'm a little bit nervous, but slowly, slowly when I finish the first set, the nervous goes down and I start playing better," said Mintegi Del Olmos, who trains in Barcelona. "The first set she play incredible. I have nothing to say. She played very good the first set. Then I serve better in the second set, and in the third set I play very well."

Mintegi Del Olmos couldn't find the depth on her shots in the first set, and was broken in the opening game of the second, but she immediately broke back. After that she held easily in her next three service games, while Schunk began spraying her shots, and gave up a break. Mintegi Del Olmos played a poor game trying to serve out the set at 5-3, but broke Schunk for the third time to take the set, with momentum squarely on her side.

"I started well," said Schunk, who turns 18 next month. "The first set was pretty good, but I felt like I was getting a bit tired and I didn't move so well anymore."

Schunk, who had played four straight three-set matches, including a 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 win over top seed Victoria Jimenez Kasintseva of Andorra that finished after 8 p.m., was unable to rebound in the third set, as Mintegi Del Olmo committed just five unforced errors and won nearly every long rally. 

Schunk fought through the last game, saving four match points, two with forehand winners and two when Mintegi Del Olmo double faulted, but backhand errors on the last two points sealed her fate, much to the delight of 2020 Australian Open girls champion Jimenez Kasintseva, who was cheering on her friend and doubles partner from the player box.

"Vicki is my friend," Mintegi Del Olmo said. "Last year we played Australian Open and played a lot of tournament together. For me, it's special to have a regular supporter. She tells me to have to be focus in the match...stay all the time playing with concentration."

As for her place in Spanish tennis history, Mintegi acknowledged her pride in joining the list of Wimbledon champions.

"For me it's special," Mintegi Del Olmo said. "I'm the first girl in Spain that I win the Wimbledon, so I'm so happy and it's amazing."

In the boys doubles final, Edas Butvilas of Lithuania and Alejandro Manzanera Pertusa of Spain claimed the title, defeating Roehampton J1 champions Daniel Rincon of Spain and Abedallah Shelbayh of Jordan 6-3, 6-4 in a battle of unseeded teams.

Butvilas and Manzanera lost in the second round at Roehampton last week, but that was the only tournament they have played together that they haven't won, with two titles this year at a Grade 1 and a Grade 2.

"It's an insane feeling, it feels like a dream," said the 16-year-old Butvilas. "We still can't believe it's real."

They had two matches go to match tiebreakers during the week, but said they played their best in today's final.

"We did everything well, today we played amazing," the 18-year-old Manzanera said. "We served well, we played volleys, returned well. We communicate really well," Butvilas added. "Good friends and good feeling," Manzanera said.

The girls doubles title went to top seeds Kristina Dmitruk of Belarus and Diana Shnaider of Russia, who defeated Sofia Costoulas of Belgium and Laura Hietaranta of Finland 6-1, 6-2. Dmitruk and Shnaider dominated the field, losing just 22 games in their five wins during the week.

In the mixed doubles final, former Arizona State star Desirae Krawczyk won her second straight slam title, partnering with former LSU standout Neal Skupski of Great Britain for a 6-2, 7-6(1) win over Joe Salisbury and Harriet Dart of Great Britain.

The No. 7 seeds, who did not face a break point in the match, said playing on Centre Court Thursday helped them in today's final.

"It was Desirae and my first appearance on Centre Court a couple days ago, so that kind of settled our nerves today," said Skupski, who collected his first major title today. "Yeah, we played a great match, and we managed to play big moments, especially in the tiebreak."

Krawczyk, who had asked Neal to partner with her at Wimbledon when Salisbury had made a previous commitment to Dart, is going to reunite with Salisbury at the US Open, although she had some fun with the scenario in the press conference.

"I'll have to think about it," Krawczyk deadpanned. "No, I'm just kidding. No, we're definitely playing together. I think he asked me before the finals of French. Yes, I will be sticking to that for now."

"Smart move," Skupski said.

"For now," Krawczyk replied.

All draws can be found at Wimbledon.com


USCwtennisfan said...

Thanks so much for your coverage of Wimbledon mixed doubles which I don't find anywhere else. But one question. You reported MattekSands, Ram team dropped out of mixed, but you did not give a reason why? I was surprised because not like MattekSands to quit an event like so many others and Ram still in men's doubles so it wasn't like he wanted to leave to go to another tournament like others did.