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Konjuh shows potential to be a star
Taylor Townsend celebrated her new position as the world’s No. 1 junior by winning the Orange Bowl doubles title in the 18-year-old age group on Sunday in partnership with Gabrielle Faith Andrews at the Frank Veltri Courts in Plantation, Fla., but the singles titles went abroad — as they have tended to for the past several years.
For the first time, both boys and girls 18s titles went to youngsters from a part of the world that seems to produce an endless supply of tennis talent — the former Yugoslavia. Laslo Djere, a 17-year-old Serb who appears to be modeling his game on his idol Novak Djokovic, proved too strong for his 16-year-old Swedish opponent, Elias Ymer, and won 6-4, 6-4 without ever being in danger of losing his serve.
But the star turn of the week belonged to Ana Konjuh, who pulled off the remarkable feat of winning the 18s title while still 14. The powerfully built Croatian player overwhelmed No. 2 seed Katerina Siniakova 6-3, 6-2 and now is eyeing life in the professional ranks. The power in her game is obvious, but she also revealed a variety of strokes, including drop shots and sliced backhands, and that suggests she is equipped for the hugely demanding environment of the WTA Tour.
"I think she is ready," said her Croatian coach, Christian Schneider. "We will only play the Grand Slams at junior level, beginning in Australia, but then she will concentrate on the 10 pro events she is allowed to play. She is a very hard worker — very serious — eats well and trains hard off the court. I think she has big potential."
Most members of the coaching fraternity who have watched Konjuh here this week would agree.
Djere, too, looks like one for the future. Solidly built, without being a giant, he revealed an ability to go for the lines on big points and hit them. "He hits his backhand down the line better than me," admitted the engaging and fleet-footed Ymer, who is of Ethiopian heritage. "I need to get stronger. He was too good for me today."
Townsend, who won her doubles match with Andrews 6-4, 7-5 over the Mexican pair of Victoria Rodriguez and Marcela Zacarias, can console herself with the somewhat sad fact that that winning the girls title at the Orange Bowl does not guarantee success on the pro tour. Only three Americans have won it this century and none of them — Jessica Kirkland in 2004; Julia Boserup in 2008 and Lauren Davis two years ago — have yet made an impact in WTA Tour events. Much can happen at this stage of a player's development, and Townsend, given the work ethic she has set for herself, could go far.