February 20, 2024

Open Court


After 25 years, an American girls’ champion at Wimbledon

WIMBLEDON – On the grownups’ side, female American champions have not been lacking at Wimbledon in recent years.

Either Serena or Venus Williams have won the ladies’ singles title seven of the last 10 years. And Venus could extend that streak this year.

But on the girls’ side, it has been 25 years.

Chanda Rubin was the last American Wimbledon girls’ champion, back in 1992.

This year, there will be another. And it could be a teenager who wasn’t anywhere close to the top of the list when the girls’ event began.

No. 3 seed Claire Liu, who reached the French Open girls’ singles final last month, will play unseeded Ann Li for the girls’ crown.

Li who turned 17 on June 26 and is currently at No. 44 in the combined ITF junior rankings, isn’t as well known (but her ITF biography says she plays the ukelele, so there’s that).

Liu was beaten by a younger American in the French Open junior final. But she’s on a roll on the grass. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

It will be the first all-American girls’ final since Mary-Lou Piatek defeated Alycia Moulton 6-1, 6-3 in 1979.

Li lost to Serbia’s Olga Danilovic – a highly-touted prospect – 61 63 in the first round of the Orange Bowl last December. She defeated her (Danilovic was the No. 11 seed) 6-2, 6-4 here. And Li needed a wild card to get into the US Open juniors last September.

This is her first junior Grand Slam. And the last few months have been the first time she has even been to Europe to play tournaments. She has only played three main-draw pro matches, and lost two of them. And she will play college tennis at LSU. She is, in other words, a junior in the true sense of the world.

But she has progressed rapidly.

Hailey Baptiste and her amazing, flowing mane lost in the second round. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Contrast that with her opponent in the final, Liu, currently the No. 2-ranked junior girl in the world. 

Liu is 22-1 in the juniors this year; her only loss came to countrywoman Whitney Osuigwe, two years her junior, in the French Open junior girls’ final. She already is ranked inside the top 300 on the WTA Tour, and she won the last two pro tournaments she played (at the ITF $25,000 level,)this spring. She also won the junior tuneup grass event in Roehampton last week.

Of the 64 girls in the singles draw, 12 were Americans. And five of them were seeded, including No. 1 Kayla Day and No. 2 Osuigwe.

Day, already ranked No. 126 on the WTA Tour and the 2016 US Open girls’ champion, hadn’t played juniors all season. She lost in the first round of qualifying for the ladies’ singles at Wimbledon to 17-year-old Canadian Bianca Andreescu. 

If she was a surprise entrant, she left without any hardware. Li defeated her 4-6, 6-2, 6-1 in the quarter-finals.

Osuigwe, her knee taped, was beaten by unseeded Sofya Lansere of Russia in the quarterfinals.

16-year-old Taylor Johnson, the No. 7 seed, has a serve-volley game that would seem Taylor-made for grass. But that’s in the future; she went out in the first round. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

The last American to make the Wimbledon junior girls’ final was Taylor Townsend in 2011; Townsend lost to Belinda Bencic of Switzerland.

Kypson is the only American in the boys’ singles semi-finals. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Other than Piatek, there have been surprisingly few American girls’ champions here.

Since 1970, only six in all.

Ann Kiyomura won it in 1973, defeating some scrub whose career never went anywhere. A girl named Martina Navratilova.

Lea Antonoplis won it in 1977. Tracy Austin won it in 1978, and Zina Garrison in 1981. And then the last, Rubin.

Venus and Serena, of course, never played it.

On the American boys’ side, 10 boys were entered – two of them seeded. Unseeded Patrick Kypson has reached the semifinals.

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