Taylor Townsend had to accept the fact that she will finish the year as the world’s No. 1 junior despite being outhit by the even more powerful 14-year-old Croatian, Ana Konjuh, in the semifinal of the 18 Girls Singles at the Orange Bowl.
Townsend, who is the first American to finish No. 1 in this age group since Gretchen Rush in 1982, insisted she felt fine when she walked onto the court. But the combination of Konjuh’s talent and the after effects of a 3-hour, 49-minute quarterfinal battle the day before took its toll and was reflected in the 4-6, 6-1, 6-3 score.
Konjuh, who was born in Dubrovnik and does not turn 15 until Dec. 27, won the Eddie Herr title last week and appears to be one of the most impressive juniors to emerge on the junior tour in some time. She already has won more than 50 matches in ITF competitions this year.
The stress of recovering to win the final tiebreak after squandering a 5-1 third-set lead against Canada’s Carol Zhao the day before left Townsend in tears, but she was more composed after her defeat Saturday.
“Konjuh played very well,” she said. “Yeah, this morning I woke up pretty tired, but I felt fine on court. I was hitting the ball well this morning, and I came on in the first set all fired up. Then she started hitting the ball really well.”
Konjuh was obviously delighted.
“I’m in good shape and I’ve got a lot of confidence right now so I’m mentally strong,” she said. “I am a bit tired after I’ve played, like 20 matches in two weeks but I hope to play well again [Sunday].”
The final will be another big test for Konjuh as she will face Czech Katerina Siniakova, who was Townsend’s main rival for the No. 1 spot. The 16-year-old defeated Mexico’s Marcela Zacarias 4-6, 6-2, 6-3.
The Boys 18’s final will be between two unexpected finalists – 10th-seeded Laslo Djere from Serbia and 12th-seeded Swede Elias Ymer.
Djere, who ousted the heavy favorite and top seed Gianluigi Quinzi in the quarters, went on to defeat ninth-seeded American Thai-Son Kwiatkowski 6-4, 6-4. Ymer, who was born in Ethiopia, came through with a 6-2, 7-5 win over the eighth-seeded Italian Filippo Baldi.