Flink, Zverev Seek First Junior Slam Titles in Melbourne
by Colette Lewis
, 17 January 2014
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Last year's Australian Open junior champions Ana Konjuh and Nick Kyrgios graduated to the women's and men's main draw this year, leaving all 128 players in the junior championships dreaming of following their path from first junior slam title to professional success in the space of just 12 months.
The boys draw is the tougher of the two, with six of the ITF junior top 10 entered, including No. 1, Alexander Zverev
, the 2013 world junior champion. The 16-year-old German is a 2013 French Open finalist and US Open semifinalist
, so he is familiar with the late stages of a junior slam, and his title at the lnternational Tennis Federation's Grade 1 warmup event in Traralgon this week proves he is in excellent form heading to Melbourne.
American Stefan Kozlov will be making his debut in Australia as the second seed, but his first trip Down Under got off to an inauspicious start when he lost in the first round at Traralgon last week. The 15-year-old Floridian's best finish in a junior slam is his quarterfinal appearance at Wimbledon last year.
Michael Mmoh of the United States, the only other American boy with direct entry into the main draw, is short on junior slam experience, with this just his second appearance in a major. Mmoh, who turned 16 last week, has made rapid strides with his game and ranking since returning to ITF competition after injury kept him out of the US Open last year. A quarterfinal appearance in Traralgon this week suggests his athletic game is well suited for the Australian hard courts.
Russian Roman Safiullin, who won the ITF Grade 1 in Costa Rica last week, is entered despite the long journey between continents, and is obviously showing excellent form. He is joined by two other Russians who will also be seeded: Daniel Medvedev and Andrey Rublev, the volatile and talented 16-year-old who has already claimed a Futures title.
Australia has a strong tradition of boys champions in Melbourne, with four of the past seven winners, and they have another excellent group of challengers this year, although none will be seeded. Akira Santillan, Blake Mott, Marc Polmans and Australian 18s National champion Bradley Mousley all had the experience of playing in the Australian Open men's qualifying last week, and Omar Jasika and Harry Bourchier have put up strong results on the ITF junior circuit, with Jasika reaching the Traralgon final. Last year Kyrgios met compatriot Thanasi Kokkinakis in the boys final; this year, both won their first round matches in the men's draw, which surely inspires confidence among their peers.