Bob Moran, for one, wasn’t surprised to see six players aged 20 or younger advance to the second round of this week's MUSC Health Women’s Open.
“Yeah, well, we’ve been doing this for a while,” the tournament director said Wednesday, laughing. “It’s important to us. We have an unbelievable reputation for being that springboard to success.”
Junior tennis, at its very highest reaches, has always been a consistent predictor of success at the professional level. But lately, the speed of the transition has been dizzying.
Iga Swiatek won the 2018 Wimbledon junior singles title and, two years later, was the French Open champion at the age of 19.
Coco Gauff, who just turned 17, won Roland Garros juniors in 2018 and – poof! – won her first WTA tournament in Linz a year later.
Eighteen-year-old Leylah Fernandez, the 2019 Roland Garros junior winner, won her first WTA title in Monterrey last month.
Clara Tauson was the 2019 Australian Open junior champion and earlier this year, as an 18-year-old, she won her first WTA title in Lyon.
And Maria Camila Osorio Serrano, who collected her first WTA title a week ago in Bogota at the age of 19, was the 2019 US Open junior winner.
Highest-ranked Teenagers in the WTA Singles Rankings (as of Monday, April 12)
World No.16 Iga Swiatek, 19
World No.35 Coco Gauff, 17
World No.39 Amanda Anisimova, 19
World No.72 Leylah Fernandez, 18
World No.84 Marta Kostyuk, 18
World No.101 Clara Tauson, 18
World No.110 Caty McNally, 19
World No.135 Maria Camila Osorio Serrano, 19
This week at the MUSC Health Women’s Open, youth has been served astonishingly well.
Wildcard Osorio Serrano upset No.2 seed Magda Linette in the first round, and now plays a second-round match Thursday against Christina McHale.
The winner of that match will face Tauson, who upset No.6 seed Ajla Tomljanovic in straight sets to reach the quarterfinals.
Qualifier Alycia Parks, 20, faces No.1 seed Ons Jabeur in another second-round match on Thursday.
A pair of wildcards, Emma Navarro, 19, and Linda Fruhvirtova also face off Thursday. Fruhvirtova, only 15, is the youngest player in the WTA Top 500.
Meanwhile, Claire Liu, a 20-year-old American qualifier, lost Wednesday to Shelby Rogers 6-2, 6-2. Liu, who defeated fellow qualifier Storm Sanders in the first round, won the 2017 Wimbledon junior title and is ranked World No.189.
“You’re definitely seeing this with all the tournaments out there,” Moran said. “And the age that these kids are starting, you’re seeing it in all professional sports. Basketball’s a tremendous example. They don’t seem to have an issue jumping from high school AAU [Amateur Athletic Union] to the NBA, and I think you’re seeing the same thing here.
“Girls are playing competitive tennis at an early age and they transition to young women playing professional tennis, and it doesn’t seem to be an issue on the competitive level. I think that shows the depth and quality that’s coming up, which we’re excited about on a lot of different fronts.”
Before the Volvo Car Open, defending champion Madison Keys, 26, joked that all this infusion of youth was making her feel old. Now we know why.
“People started calling me a veteran on tour, so I’m just rolling with it,” Keys said. “Yes, in real life, I know I’m not old. In tennis, apparently, I’m old.”
Five Things to Know About …
Maria Camila Osorio Serrano, Colombia, 19 (currently ranked a career-high World No.135):
· The title-winning week in Bogota, only her fourth WTA main-draw appearance, was transformative for Osorio Serrano as she defeated two Top 100 players – Tamara Zidansek and Tereza Martincova – and leaped 45 spots in the rankings.
· After getting in on a special exemption, she surprised No.2 seed Magda Linette (ranked World No.51) in the first round at the MUSC Health Women’s Open. “It’s been really crazy for me,” Osorio Serrano said. “Was my first title and I can’t describe the feeling. I was a little bit tired when I started hitting [in Charleston]. I just can’t believe that I’m doing this well.”
· She’s the second Colombian to reach the WTA Top 150 in the past 12 years, joining Mariana Duque-Marino.
· Osorio Serrano loves the versatile games of Ashleigh Barty and Bianca Andreescu. “Barty, she has everything,” Osorio Serrano said. “Great shots, can hit slice, hit drops, high ball is amazing. I just love watching her play. Bianca, she has a lot of high spirit. She’s never going to give up. I hope I can also do that in matches.”
· Moran: “To be honest, Bogota was the first eyes-on that we had for her. Prior to that, she really wasn’t on our radar. So this was truly a breakthrough, even for our standards. We keep an eye on a lot of the young players and where they’re coming up from. This caught us off guard. We’re thrilled that she made her way up here.”
Linda Fruhvirtova, Czech Republic, 15 (currently ranked a career-high World No.499):
· Won her very first WTA main-draw match on Tuesday when Alizé Cornet retired with a leg injury at 4-4 in the third set.
· Held a match point in the second set, but regrouped and played steady tennis in the third. “I feel really proud of myself,” she said afterwards. “I gave it all today. I’ve always had the fighting attitude.”
· Chris Evert, 18-time major champion, tweeted: “She practiced at my Academy for a few weeks in January and was very impressive, playing sets with WTA pros and competing with them showing confidence and skill... She’s got it.”
· Will play French Open and Wimbledon junior tournaments later this year. “I need to play matches,” she explained. “Playing the junior Grand Slams is nice, too. To handle the pressure, you know, `I should win this match.’ You get to know the atmosphere for the future.”
· Moran: “She was definitely on our radar. We have a very strong relationship with her agent [IMG’s Marijn Bal], who reached out to us a long time ago about the Volvo Car Open. Marijn has been doing a really good job keeping us up to speed on who she is, and believes she’s going to be a great player.”
Emma Navarro, United States, 19 (currently ranked a career-high World No.404):
· Hometown is Charleston.
· Won her first WTA main-draw match at the Volvo Car Open, 6-4, 6-3, over Renata Zarazua, before falling to eventual champion Veronika Kudermetova in the second round.
· In beating World No.96 Tereza Martincova in the first round of the MUSC Health Women’s Open, took home her first Top 100 victory.
· Won her first 14 singles matches as a freshman at the University of Virginia; finished 16-1 on the No.1 court and earlier this week reached a No.1 ITA singles ranking, becoming the third player in program history to be ranked No.1.
· Moran: “Born and raised here, so we’ve known Emma since she was little. Very smart player. Just watching her game develop, her forehand has been unbelievable last week and this week. The surface changes don’t seem to bother her. Very, very calm.”
Alycia Parks, United States, 20 (currently ranked a career-high World No.313):
· Qualified her way into the tournament, beating Varvara Flink and Kateryna Bondarenko, then got past fellow qualifier Grace Min in the first round.
· Biggest week came last November when she won seven matches, including qualifying, to take the ITF $25,000 title in Orlando. She also won the doubles title that week.
· Previously, had been 0-2 in 2019 ITF finals, losing to Hsu Chieh-Yu in Shreveport and Gabriela Talaba in Redding.
· Best win came over Kirsten Flipkens, a Top 100 player, in November 2019 in Las Vegas.
· Moran: “We’re here 365. We don’t just come in and run an event. We are here all the time. We’ve seen Alycia play a lot of events here in Charleston, so we’ve known her for a couple of years. She really hung in there – she wasn’t in either of these draws, but she just said she was going to stick around and hope an opportunity comes. And they came in both of those instances.”
Clara Tauson, Denmark, 18 (currently ranked World No.101; career-high World No.96)
· Here’s the list of players she beat on the way to the Lyon title: No.1 seed Ekaterina Alexandrova, Timea Babos, Camila Giorgi, Paula Badosa, and Viktorija Golubic. That sent her soaring 43 spots up the WTA ranking ladder.
· She’d really like to play Petra Kvitova someday. “She’s one of my idols you can say,” Tauson said. “I feel like she has a great game and I try to play like her. Good serve, really aggressive. She’s a really good champion.”
· Already seen as a worthy successor to fellow Dane and former World No.1 Caroline Wozniacki.
· Beat Jennifer Brady in the first round of her Grand Slam debut at Roland Garros after qualifying.
· Moran: “Another player whose agent was reaching out to us six, eight months ago about the opportunity. We’ve definitely watched her. Won her first tournament and she’s been playing incredible ever since. Somebody we’ve had our eye on from the beginning.”