In the normal world, tennis fans would’ve been preparing for the start of the 2020 French Open this week.
An interesting sideshow at the Australian Open and all of the grand slam events is the boys and girls tournaments.
Held simultaneously with the main event, these under-age tournaments feature some of the top juniors in the world and provide an opportunity for tennis aficionados to nominate their next big thing.
Not that it always works that way. Although the honour board of Australian boys’ singles champions has included some famous names since 1922 — Ken Rosewall, Rod Laver, John Newcombe and Nick Kyrgios — it also includes many players who failed to make the big stage in any meaningful way, either not pursuing a career in tennis or failing to achieve more than journeyman status despite their initial success.
The name Newcombe appears on the board four times. Three belong to the champion John Newcombe, but an earlier win by a Max Newcombe in 1938 provides an element of intrigue. Although not John’s father, he was perhaps related in some other way.
The list of grand slam junior champions also provides some insight into why Australia may have produced more tennis champions last century that other nations.
The Australian listing starts in 1922 while both the French and Wimbledon events only started in 1947, and the US list didn’t start until 1973. These lists are also dotted with some outstanding champions: Stefan Edberg won all four titles in 1983 while Mark Kratzmann won all but the French title in the following year.
Since that date, only two other players have won three of the four slams in the same year: Nicolas Pereira (1988) and Gael Monfils (2004).
In recent years the grand slam titles have been shared by players from a number of different countries, but the junior event is yet to gain the status of the main event and therefore a number of ranked players generally are not available each year.
However, the rankings are still the main criteria for admission to the main draw, and on this basis, the 56 top-ranked players would be admitted with the final eight placings given to wild cards.
Australia currently has only one boy ranked in the top 56 and therefore is certain of only one entrant in the event. However, in the past, Tennis Australia have allocated the eight wild cards to young players to enable them to gain experience and ranking points in their attempt to emulate such past winners as Alexander Zverev, who took out the Aussie title in 2014.
I would expect the same to happen this year despite the limited success achieved in 2019. Last year, only one wild card advanced beyond Round 1 (Ken Cavrak) to join the fifth seed Rinky Hijikata in the second round.
This year, Tristan Schoolkate – who received a wild card last year – is ranked 30 in the world and I would expect him to be joined in the main draw by Dane Sweeny, Chen Dong, Stefan Storch, Rinky Hijikata, Nikita Volonski, Cihan Akay, Philip Sekulic and Alex Bulte.
These eight young Australians are all ranked in the world’s top 200, and are all able to give any opponent a run for their money.