Why top ITF female juniors stay on the top?

Travelling around the world and being a coach on the ITF Junior Circuit is a great possibility to learn and increase tennis knowledge. Looking at own player’s development, results, and responses are all steps important in the process of athletic career so coaches who go to the tournaments have much bigger opportunities to help players achieve their dreams.

One of the crucial areas in my coaching is learning from others and by watching top players compete I can easily transform this knowledge into my coaching sessions to make it more effective and transfer the work into results.

There are some really significant differences between male’s game and female’s game even at the junior level. Boys are solid and stable so that is why it is not surprising that player ranked #250 is able to beat the guy who is constantly playing junior Grand Slam tournaments. All boys have great serves, good footwork and consistent baseline game so the final result depends on a given day performance.

Girls’ game is completely different. There are some critical areas that differ top 50 juniors from players who are only 40 or 100 places behind. Even the ranking position is pretty close between 2 players the reality is that top 50 females have skills that let them win 9 of 10 matches against rivals ranked 50-200 ITF.

If you want to improve your game and achieve better results you have to make sure that you are better every day than you were before. Only long-term vision with conscious daily work will guarantee that you walk the right way and even when you lose it doesn’t mean that you step back. Being able to watch players compete at various highest-grade ITF Junior tournaments in Morocco, Osaka, Cairo, Prague, Porto Alegre, Barranquilla and many more interesting places I was able to see the reasons why top ITF females stay on the top.

Most of the athletes included in this group are there because of their good results during the whole year. Of course there are few players who achieved great results only in 1 or 2 tournaments but these ones won’t stay there for a long time. So how can we get our player to become top 50 junior girl in the world? How to make her stay there for a long time? Here are the areas that you can learn from athletes who are already there:

Stable and solid performance

Do top 50 players play their best match of life every time they step on the court? Absolutely not. Do they have skills at much higher level than players ranked 50-100 ITF? Definitely not. The secret is in their ability to play at solid level for the whole course of the match. That is the difference. Top players play well for the long time without any significant ups and downs. They don’t play spectacular – they play solid but it is enough.

Players who are not in the top are able to get the lead 2:0 or 4:1 while playing against top female junior but they are not able to close the set or the match. They get the lead because of extraordinary performance that they can’t maintain for more time than that. If you want to get into top 50 you have to be able to find your level of play that you are able to maintain for more than few gems.

Opportunities don’t change anything

Great champions look for opportunities and try to give their best when facing crucial times in match. Top juniors do it too. When they face the break point they don’t slow down the racquet, won’t change the strategy or move few steps back behind the baseline. They are in the top because they have courage to trust their shots when it really counts.

Completely different story we can observe while watching players who are ranked outside the top. When facing a pressure moment they change strategy „from winning the point” to strategy „not losing the point”. Only brave athletes achieve great results so if you want to join this group you can’t doubt your abilities in crucial moments.

Fitness side is not a weakness

Looking at lower ranked players we can spot some weaknesses in physical preparation. Player A has lazy footwork. Player B needs some air after 20 shots rally. Player C can’t ace rivals because the speed of the serve is really slow. All these factors are related to poor fitness abilities. When you look at top 50 ITF juniors you won’t see these weaknesses. All players are well-prepared physically so that is why they don’t have down times during the whole match. If you take care of your base you can build a great game on it.

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Why top ITF female juniors stay on the top? — 3 Comments

  1. ITF Juniors Girls ranking reflects financial abilities of players/families/federations & their geographical “preferences” MUCH more than the real strengh & game quality.

    This year on ITF Pro event I saw a match of one 16 y.o. girl from Eastern Europe, who was never ranked even in Top-300 on Juniors level.

    First time, her opponent was 17 y.o. Junior GS Main Draw 2-round player with Junior CHR#55, who had close matches vs. Kayla Day & other prominent junior players. The opponent even had a National Fed Cup team experience!

    The result was… 6:0, 6:0 for Eastern European girl.

    You can suggest that it was something wrong with the opponent that day… but in a couple of days that same girl played vs. another good 17 y.o. junior player, who was ranked inside top-100 on juniors level and already inside WTA top-1000. The second opponent had close losses vs. Kayla Day, but in 2 sets won over such a known junior as Natasha Subhash. This opponent had high Grade junior titles (Grade 1 or Grade A… I do not remember, you can easily check it if you want).

    The result of that match was 6:2, 6:2 for that same Eastern European girl, with no chances for her titled & high-ranked opponent.

    I asked her coach why she is ranked so low on ITF Juniors. This is his answer (in my words, but the sense is kept intact): “There is no big sense to hunt for rankings on ITF Juniors level – if you clearly understand what’s going on with your player. For sure, if you can pay for tickets, hotels etc., or somebody else pays for you – go & do it. But you actually do NOT vitally need a lot of it for a player’s development – if you have a girl. Invite any 18 y.o. boy who plays regional league, or ranked inside top-50 of your nation, and he will give you all the quality you need. Invite another one next weekend etc. In your town, on your courts. In any way, ITF Pro/WTA is a final stop, but you choose a price to pay for tickets there”

    One more confirmation of it is Italy, I mean Itlian girls. There are a lot of them in 300-400-500-1000 ranking area who can beat ITF Juniors top-50 player – especially non-European, non-U.S. one (Latin American, Asian, African etc.). This is because they are busy playing Italian club championships, regional leagues etc. So they just do NOT need to play ITF Juniors events, and they do not care about ranking.

  2. Thanks for your opinion. Nobody said playing ITF is necessary. It has many benefits but it is not the only way to the top. Do top ITF juniors are the best juniors in the world? Definitely not. It is the same like with professional players. Top players are not the best in the world but the best in the group of players who play well, can afford tennis career and didn’t have a serious injury at young age to name a few factors. There is no one only way to achieve greatness but it is smart to learn from top juniors because some of them will be top professionals too.

    • Some of them will be top professionals, but some of them simply… won’t. So how can we learn from somebody if this “somebody” is not yet “a final product”?

      Here is one more example – from my own experience (with some words dedicated specially to conditioning). The real story (as well as in my previous comment).

      There is one girl, who started to play tennis quite early & very, very successfully. Her coach paid a lot of attention to consistency & power baseline game. They also spent several hours a day in a gym, so this girl is really fitted & strong, but easy-moving & fast at the same time.

      Their results came easily. She won a lot U12 & U14, including one of the famous American junior tournaments. She won national U18 championship being 13!!! She won her first & second ITF Juniors event being 14, breaking into ITF Juniors top-200. Nobody in 12-13-14-15 age was able to survive her powerful baseline game with superior consistency. Nobody had the same fitness form to play long rallies, one after one. This girl got an agency contract in 10 or 11, and was recognized as the best junior player of her country several times.

      There is another girl who practiced in the same town. She never (until recent times) won ANY international junior tournament. She never was a national champion even in her own age. She never seriously worked in a gym (excluded warm-ups & stretchings). Her coach rarely asked her to drill baseline diagonals & down-the-lines for hours. Instead, they played a lot of serves, returns & short (1-3 shots) combinations. They also paid a lot of attention to slices, drop shots and volleys.

      Naturally, the latter girl was not successful in junior competitions. Her serves & returns were not powerful enough to produce winners (or set-ups) immediately. The fast & well-drilled opponents reached a ball and make a long point, and that girl had no chances to win…

      Recently, these two girls played a match. And the result was 6:0, 6:3 for the latter girl. The former one is still very good on baseline game & very fit. The problem that she was unable to reach a long flat rally she needs to win! Her opponent served well and won a lot of points with forced errors after serve, or serve+1 shot after a short return. The opponent returned incredibly well, using angles and hitting the balls on the rise. If there was a rally, the opponent broke it immediately with low slice, or surviving 2-3 long diagonals and switching to drop shot, or fast direction change…

      One girl had something she did very well from being 10 years old kid. To do it very well, she refused to learn what she REALLY needs to become a good player.

      Another girl tried to eat “the whole lunch” not only cold snacks :). But it took some time. Her coach & parents were patient enough and gave the veggie time to grow.

      P.S. What’s happened in a few month? The “young star” is now 600-something in ITF Juniors, and she struggled to go through qualies on ITF Juniors tournaments. She is 15 now, so she has time to improve her standings.

      The latter girl is also 600-something in ITF Juniors, but she already got her starting WTA points. At her 16, it is not a bad start – at all.