This year’s US Open Junior Championships are eagerly awaited by players and fans alike after the 2020 edition of the tournament was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The crowds are back in New York, and the juniors competing in the six-day event are ready to compete side by side with the world’s top professionals on the grounds of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, New York.
Players spent the day on Sunday dodging rain drops as they took to the practice courts in advance of the start of the year’s final junior slam, which begins on Monday. Twelve qualifiers and a lucky loser joined the field on Saturday after the completion of the qualifying tournament at the Cary Leeds Tennis Center in the Bronx, with four Americans joining the 27 others who were direct entries or wild card recipients.
One of those qualifiers, Theadora Rabman, isn’t far from home, with the 16-year-old New Yorker making the best of her wild card into qualifying by winning two matches over seeded players in third-set tiebreakers. Another unseeded 16-year-old wild card, Californian Kyle Kang, matched Rabman’s feat, defeating two seeds, including the second seed in qualifying, Coleman Wong of Hong Kong, 6-1, 3-6, 10-5. Both will make their junior slam debuts on Monday. Valencia Xu and lucky loser Katja Wiersholm round out the quartet of Americans who emerged from qualifying.
The United States Tennis Association decided to reduce the draw size for this year’s tournament, calling it “the best opportunity to host a safe and logistically successful event.”
The qualifying draw size went from 32 to 24 and the main draw size from 64 to 48, meaning that the 16 seeded players in each singles draw will have byes, with their opponents decided in Monday’s first round.
The top two seeds are, for the third consecutive junior slam, Andorra’s Victoria Jimenez Kasintseva and China’s Juncheng Shang, both of whom reached the semi-finals at Wimbledon. The Wimbledon champions, Samir Banerjee of the United States and Ane Mintegi Del Olmo of Spain, are the No. 2 and No. 4 seeds, respectively, joining 2020 Australian Open champion Jimenez Kasintseva as the only junior slam champions in the draw.
The United States claims half of the top six seeds: Banerjee, No. 4 seed Bruno Kuzuhara and No. 6 seed Victor Lilov, the 2021 Wimbledon boys’ finalist. Spain has two seeded boys, No. 3 Daniel Rincon and No. 14 seed Alejandro Manzanera Pertusa, as does France, in No. 10 seed Sean Cuenin and No. 11 seed Sascha Gueymard Wayenburg.
College Park J1 champion Mark Lajal of Estonia, the No. 9 seed, is confident after claiming his third J1 title of the year last month on the hard courts of the Junior Tennis Champions Center, and American wild card Ryan Colby, a finalist in College Park, is also one to watch.
No. 16 seed Ashlyn Krueger, who played in the women’s singles main draw as the USTA National 18s singles champion, and No. 7 seed Robin Montgomery are two of the four seeded Americans, along with No. 12 seed Elvina Kalieva and No. 10 seed Madison Sieg. No other country has more than one seeded player in the girls’ draw.
An unseeded girl to watch is 16-year-old Reese Brantmeier, who was runner-up to Krueger at the USTA National 18s and won two rounds as a wild card in the women’s qualifying. So too is Julia Middendorf of Germany, who warmed up for her last junior slam by winning an ITF World Tennis Tour event at W15 level in her home country last month.
With nearly one of every three players in the draw from the United States, the fans in New York will have no trouble finding a rooting interest. If that player is an underdog, the cheers will be even louder as supporters look to identify the next Jenson Brooksby (2018 boys semi-finalist), Brandon Nakashima (2019 boys semi-finalist) or Coco Gauff (2017 finalist) who they could be watching on Ashe or Armstrong Stadiums in a few short year.