Slam Junior Champion? Your Future as Tennis Pro is not Assured

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During my last article I discussed about the choice of Tommy Paul to turn professional after his title at Roland Garros Junior. So I decided to analyze the historical data of Junior Grand Slams to understand how certain can a Slam Junior Champion be to have an outstanding pro career. I analyed Boys Slam Champions from 1990 to 2010 (considering 5 years is the average transition time from juniors to established pro career, I put away from my analysis the winners from 2011 to 2015).

Here it is the complete summary

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In the past 21 years we had 11 multiple Slam winners:

Andrea Gaudenzi (ITA) – 2 Slams – Best ranking 18

Thomas Enqvist (SWE) – 2 Slams – Best ranking 4

Leander Paes (IND) – 2 Slams – Best ranking 78 (but stunning doubles career)

Nicolas Kiefer (GER) – 2 Slams – Best ranking 4

Daniel Elsner (GER) – 3 Slams – Best ranking 92

Andy Roddick (USA) – 2 Slams – Best ranking 1

Richard Gasquet (FRA) – 2 Slams – Best ranking 7

Gael Monfils (FRA) – 3 Slams – Best ranking 7

Donald Young (USA) – 2 Slams – Best ranking 38

Grigor Dimitrov (BUL) – 2 Slams – Best ranking 8

Bernard Tomic (AUS)- 2 Slams – Best ranking 24

It is pretty clear that if you win more than one Slam you have a very high probability of becoming a top pro player.

But what about the boys that have just one Slam under their belt?

We have a significant number of players that disappeared from Pro Tour without leaving any sign.

We had two quite recent winners (Daniel Berta won Roland Garros in 2009 and Tiago Fernandes won Australian Open in 2010) that are considered retired now and never entered the ATP top 350.

Also Oliver Golding, Junior US Open winner in 2011 already quit tennis. The question is why?

When I was a kid I used to swing in quite a carefree way, but after I won the US Open juniors a lot of people wanted to have an input into the way I was playing. The result was that I got regulated and lost touch with the way I used to hit the ball.

It’s a hell of a tough life. The rewards are very limited. I can understand that the LTA want to have targets but I think it’s tough enough as it is. When you look at the conditions at a Futures, it’s below the minimum wage. I entered one 128-player draw, qualified and won a round, and reached the semis of the doubles. I was there from Thursday to Thursday and after tax my pay packet was 88 Euros.

A lot of British tennis boys I’ve grown up with think it’s a jolly, that you’re going to play some tennis, get all the girls, go out, but it doesn’t work like that. People who say that wouldn’t have any idea how difficult it is. How much you have to put in and how little you get back. I was incredibly hungry, I used to get frustrated on the court because I wanted to win so much. I gave it absolutely everything for six or seven years of my life, traveling for 25 or 30 weeks a year. In the end I felt I didn’t have much in the tank, and that it wasn’t honest to take sponsorship from people in that state.

So being surrounded by a “bad” (at least for you) team, the struggle for money at ITF level and poor mental strenght can kill your professional dreams even if you win a Junior Grand Slam.

On the other side, it can happen than someone is winning as Junior just because more mentally or physically prepared to tennis, or because of tennis tactics thta can work as Junior but not as Pro.

Naomi Cavaday in her amazing blog described her experience:

I remember constantly losing to hackers, and because of this, I was not even ranked in the top 20 in the country for my age at 14. In fact, I lost in the first round of qualifying for under 14 Nationals in exactly this fashion. The girl was hacking every ball up in the sky, and I was thumping shots all over the place… a few went in. Three years later I find myself thumping winners on a show court at Wimbledon playing the 18thseed in the main draw. The other kids who would beat me 1 and 1 every time did not make it to Wimbledon… I don’t think they even got a ranking.

I also wanted an answer for this question: Which is the most reliable Junior Slam?

I considered the ranking of players 5 years after their Slam title and their career best ranking (I stayed away from average best and worst player) and this is the result:

Average ranking 5 years after Slam Title Average best career ranking
Australian Open 277 113
Roland Garros 124 56
Wimbledon 200 78
US Open 72 34

So US Open is (by a mile!) the most “predictive” Slam and Australian Open is the least.

As I wrote earlier I analyzed 21 years: now I will show how many of these 21 winners per Slam made the top 100 within 5 years from Junior Title, top 100 in career, and top 10 in career.

Top 100 after 5 years Top 100 Top 10
Australian Open 7 10 6
Roland Garros 12 16 7
Wimbledon 8 14 5
US Open 14 19 8

Again we have that if you win an US Open Junior title you can be almost sure that you will enter the top 100 (only exceptions have been Brian Dunn in 1992 and Dusan Lojda in 2006) but if you win in Australia you have less than 50% chances to do it!

So let’s see who is going to win the Wimbledon Junior Title this year: he will have 66% chance to make the top 100 in his career!

Enjoy what you see? Check out our full Wimbledon coverage here.

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