Clay revolution boosts junior hopes in France
Tennis Australia National Academy Head Coach Brent Larkham is backing Australian juniors to perform strongly at Roland Garros
A group of Australia’s most promising juniors are aiming to end an almost 50-year title drought in this year’s French Open junior girls’ and boys’ singles competitions.
World No.5 Alex De Minaur of New South Wales and Victorian Jaimee Fourlis headline Australia’s chances when main draw matches hit off at Roland Garros on Sunday.
Australian juniors have typically struggled to breakthrough on the Parisian clay, with Phil Dent and Lesley Hunt the last singles champions in 1968.
There has been some success on the doubles court – Pat Cash, Todd Woodbridge, Jason Stoltenberg, Nicole Pratt, Jelena Dokic and more recently Jessica Moore and Nick Kyrgios are all former junior doubles champions.
Yet Tennis Australia National Academy Head Coach Brent Larkham is confident that current and future Australian juniors can fare better on a surface traditionally dominated by European players.
“Tennis Australia has invested significantly in world class clay courts being built here in Australia over the last few years and hopefully it will pay dividends,” Larkham said.
“Junior nationals are going to be played on clay this year in Canberra and some ITF and Futures level events also scheduled on clay around Australia. The National Academies all have access to clay courts for the top junior state level players to gain exposure to the surface and improve their skills.”
In the past two decades, there has been a 6,700 per cent increase in Tier 1 clay courts Australia-wide, the highest level professional clay surface. This includes 32 clay courts at National Academy venues for elite junior development athletes to train on.
Di Minaur, a semifinalist at the two most recent junior Grand Slam events, will be one of the top seeds in the junior boys’ singles. Alexi Popryin and Blake Ellis also feature in the draw.
Jaimee Fourlis and Jeanette Lin are in the girls’ singles main draw, while Destanee Aiava is attempting to join them and won her first round qualifying match over night.
“I like our chances at the French Open this year,” Larkham said.
“Jaimee Fourlis and Alex Di Minaur have both had fantastic years in 2016 and are likely to be strong contenders for the titles. Blake Ellis, Alexi Popryin, Destanee Aiava and Jeanette Lin are also very good young players who could trouble anyone in the draw. I’m hopeful of some strong showings from all of them.”