The likes of Kyle Edmund, Laura Robson and the Broady siblings have perforated the edges of our tennis lives in recent years, with all of them having been born in the mid-to-late nineties and enjoyed successful Junior careers. But another generation of tennis juniors is on the rise: we look at a few of the brightest prospects born in this millennium.
Jack Draper (2001)
Turning 15 years of age in 2016, Jack Draper is already punching well above his age range in every single aspect of his game, and is one of the brightest British juniors not only in his age range but across the board. In 2011 he was the World U10s Champion; in 2012 and 2013 he won the Nike World Junior Tour, and by 2014 he was already winning U14 events despite being a year younger than most of his competitors, finishing the year in the European Top 15. He rose to European No. 1 for his age group in January 2015 and remained in the Top 10 all year, finishing 8th in the year-end Tennis Europe Junior Masters.
Some success for a boy who has barely entered his teenage years.
Jack Draper, alongside his older brother Ben, originally hails from Surrey, and his exploits around Europe mean he’s not only the #1 LTA-ranked U14 player in the county, he’s also the #1 in the U16 age group for Surrey and #2 in the whole of the south-east region. Furthermore, he’s 11th overall in a county that includes the likes of Joe Salisbury, doubles specialist Darren Walsh and Tom Farquharson, and he’s three years younger than everyone else (bar one) in the top 20.
This is hugely down to his performance at ITF Junior level this year. He is ranked a junior career high of 778, which is not hugely impressive at first glance, but he is well above average for his age group: only five other 2001-born players place higher in the Boys’ rankings at the time of writing. He has competed in U18 events at Grade 5 and Grade 4 level throughout the calendar year, making a quarter-final appearance at a G4 event in Dubai in November (beating the 5th seed along the way), and has a win-loss record at U14 level of 26-9 for 2015.
Despite his impressive 2015, 2014 was an even better year for the youngster, partly due to his attempt to move up the age ladder this year. In 2014, he focused almost exclusively on U14 events and won five titles in Sweden, Croatia, Hungary, Britain and the Czech Republic. He lost just 9 games from 52 in main draws, a hugely impressive record and one which would have always been hard to repeat in 2015.
He’s not quite managed to fulfil all his stated aims; he told Sports Aid that his goal was to be European #1 at U14 level all year, which hasn’t quite panned out, but there’s no doubting that Jack Draper has bundles of talent, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he became a household name in the not-too-distant future.
Anton Matusevich (2001)
It’s not often that a 14-year-old can claim he is the second best player in his county. Anton Matusevich can do so.
Born in New York City and having moved to Sevenoaks very soon afterwards, Matusevich is the only player born in 2001 that has an LTA rating of 2.2 or higher – even Jack Draper’s is only 3.1 – and he currently sits at #1 nationally in the LTA rankings at U14 level and #85 overall, ahead of Draper and within striking distance of top juniors Finn Bass and Charles Broom and not far off upcoming senior talents Joel Cannell and Jonathan Gray. Again, at 14, this is hugely impressive.
His potential was furiously unleashed at the Nike Junior International Championship in Bolton at the start of the year where, entering as a wildcard, he defeated five consecutive seeded players to lift the title. Later in the year, he went on to defeat the European U14 #1 Timofey Skatov to reach the quarter-finals at the European Junior Championships in Plzen, Czech Republic.
But he has also tried his hand at the ITF Junior tour, with glimpses of potential success: he won a couple of rounds at the G5 Deloitte Junior Cup in Aarhus in June, and then reached the quarter-finals of the Internacional Junior de Leiria G4 event in Portugal in August, before being beaten by fellow Brit Ewan Lumsden.
Currently ranked 1276th in the ITF Junior rankings, Matusevich is sure to climb higher and higher as he progresses through the game, and will definitely be one to watch as he approaches 18 years of age and graduates onto the Senior tour.
Gemma Heath (2001)
Draper and Matusevich have made their mark at U14 level and both have titles to their name, but neither of them has won a full U18 ITF Juniors event. Gemma Heath has.
Heath’s record in full ITF events is nothing sort of phenomenal, given she was 13 at the start of the year. She played 5 G4 events and two G5 events, winning an incredible 13 matches out of 19, including her stunning victory at the Nike Junior International in Edinburgh in July, beating fellow Brit and top seed Megan Davies in the final. She entered as a wildcard and knocked out the second and fifth seed en route. Her exceptional form continued into the G4 events later in the year, reaching quarter-finals in Britain, France and Belgium while playing girls up to 4 years older than her.
She was, at the time, the youngest Brit in a decade to win a maiden ITF title.
Like Matusevich, she holds a 2.2 LTA rating and is only one of two girls born in 2001 to hold that rating or higher. She is ranked 83rd in Britain, according to the LTA Combined Rankings, as well as being #1 at U14 level and #8 in her county overall. In all her 30 matches at U14-U18 level in 2015, she won 22 and lost just 8 – a hugely impressive record as she moves into her 15th year.
Gemma currently trains full time at the Sutton Tennis Academy and her education is provided via long distance courses. She is currently receiving a grant from Tennis First, alongside Matusevich and a clutch of other juniors, and clearly has a bright future ahead of her.
Ali Collins (2000)
Born in Dunblane, educated at Dunblane Primary School, trained at Stirling University, and now attending the Sanchez Casal Academy – you’d be forgiven for thinking I was talking about a certain Andy Murray.
Ali Collins will be 16 in 2016, but her career path has already been eerily similar to the current male British Number 1, and indeed, it appears the Murray family may have had a lot of influence in her relocation to Florida, according to the Daily Record. Okay, so Murray trained predominantly at the sister academy in Spain, but the point still stands – we may have a future Grand Slam Champion on our hands.
The statistics look wonderful: Collins broke into the Top 200 of the ITF junior rankings before the age of 15 (Draper, Matusevich, Heath – take note) and in two years has risen from outside the top 2000 in December 2013 to a career high 186 in November this year, after some frankly astounding performances well ahead of her time.
Her record in ITF G4 & G3 events speaks for itself – in just 8 tournaments she has won 27 games, claimed 1 title, reached a further 4 finals, and won 6 sets by 6 games to love. Aside from her G4 title win in Puerto Rico in March, her best moment came a few weeks earlier at the G3 Costa Rica Bowl where, after qualifying to reach the main draw, she proceed to march through to the final, beating the second seed in the first round before ultimately losing in the final, a result which boosted her ranking hugely and set her up very nicely for the year ahead. Her efforts were rewarded with two wildcards in the British grass season; she won a round in Roehampton but failed to repeat herself at Junior Wimbledon the following week.
Already the subject of local news, Collins’ career path has all the makings of a champion. Let’s hope she fulfils that potential.
Emma Raducanu (2002)
Gemma Heath in July was the youngest British winner in a decade of a maiden U18 ITF Junior event. In November, she had that record stripped from her – and then some.
Signing on to the G5 Nike Junior International in Liverpool on the day of her 13th birthday, the youngest age possible for an event of that kind, an unranked teenage wildcard Emma Raducanu defeated Lauryn John-Baptiste, the top seed, in the final, becoming the youngest player ever to win an full U18 ITF Junior title. Following her victory, the 13-year-old entered the junior rankings just outside the top 1000, and . What an achievement. Winning the LTA Junior Player of the Month for November was just the icing on the cake.
Her ranking positions elsewhere are pretty decent as well: she hit a CH of 85th in the Tennis Europe U14 rankings (aged just 12, remember) in March and is currently in the top 500 at U18 level, while she’s the 8th best in her county (Kent) and in the top 150 in the UK, including seniors, according to the LTA.
She has won a a Tennis Europe event at U11, U12 and U14 level (and now, of course, an ITF U18 event) and finished 5th at the U12 Orange Bowl, and if her progress is as exceptional as it has been since she began playing tennis aged 4, then we truly have a bucketload of talent on our hands.