By Sally Milano, USTA.com
What a great year 2006 was for America’s top juniors.
This year, we saw Kellen Damico and Nate Schnugg win the boys' doubles title at Wimbledon, as well as Lauren Albanese pick up her first pro title at a USTA Pro Circuit event and then have a phenomenal run at the 2006 US Open. We also saw Julia Cohen make history at the Casablanca Cup, and Donald Young become one of only a handful of boys to win two straight titles at the USTA National Championships.
Those are just a few of the exceptional moments from U.S. juniors this year. Now let’s take a look back at some more highlights from our talented young players.
Cohen Makes History at Casablanca Cup
|Julia Cohen was in the world's top 10 for much of 2006© juniortennis.com|
Julia Cohen couldn’t have asked for a better start to 2006, posting excellent results at the first ITF junior Grade A event of the year – the 28th International Casablanca Junior Cup, held Dec. 26-Jan. 1 in Mexico City, Mexico.
Cohen, a 16-year-old from Weston, Fla., captured the singles title at the event, notching a come-from-behind, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 win over Marrit Boonstra of the Netherlands for the title. She also reached the final in doubles, teaming with Mexico's Valeria Pulido Valesco, before falling to Boonstra and Renee Reinhard of the Netherlands, 7-5, 6-3.
With her victory in singles, Cohen became the first player ever to win the Casablanca Cup girls’ singles title twice, having also captured the championship in 2004.
Later in 2006, she went on to give a number of impressive performances on the ITF Junior Circuit, winning the singles title at the Copa Graiman, finishing runner-up in doubles and reaching the singles semifinals at the Kentucky International Tennis Derby, advancing to the doubles final at the Coffee Bowl, and reaching the doubles quarterfinals at Wimbledon.
Cohen is now listed at No. 7 in the ITF World Junior Rankings, just one spot below the career-high mark she set for herself in January 2004.
Damico, Schnugg Win First Grand Slam Title at Wimbledon
|Kellen Damico (l) and Nathaniel Schnugg (r) hold the trophy after winning the boys' doubles championship at Wimbledon© Ian Walton/Getty Images|
Doubles was not only alive and kicking for American men and women at Wimbledon this year, but for our junior players, as well. After watching the Bryan Brothers claim the championship in the men’s draw and Bob Bryan and Venus Williams reach the final in mixed doubles, Kellen Damico and Nate Schnugg captured the first Grand Slam titles of their careers, taking home the trophy in the boys’ doubles tournament.
Damico and Schnugg, who reached doubles finals earlier in the year at the Australian Open, the ITF Grade A Casablanca Cup and the Easter Bowl, pulled off the upset of the tournament in the first round, stunning top-seeds Thiemo De Bakker, this year’s boys' singles champion, and his partner Alexandre Sidorenko in three sets, 6-4, 3-6, 7-5. The duo then battled through three more three-set matches, before knocking off the No. 2-seeded team from Slovakia, Martin Klizan and Andrej Martin, 7-6 (7), 6-2, in the final.
With their victory, Damico and Schnugg, both 17, became the third straight American duo to capture the championship in boys’ doubles at the All-England Club. Jesse Levine and Michael Shabaz won the title last year, while Brendan Evans and Scott Oudsema were victorious in 2004.
Damico’s Phenomenal Year
In addition to Kellen Damico’s doubles success in 2006, he also had a stellar year competing in singles.
Among his many impressive results, the 6-foot right-hander from Parker, Colo., advanced to finals at the USTA International Spring Championships and the Jerry Simmons Pan American Closed ITF Championships, the semifinals at the Casablanca Cup, the quarterfinals at the Astrid Bowl and the singles round of 16 at the Italian Open.
He reached a career-high ITF World Junior Ranking of No. 6 in January and is now at No. 9 – the only American boy in the world’s top 10.
Schnugg Teams with Hunt to Win Second Grand Slam of Year
After capturing his first major title at Wimbledon in July, Nate Schnugg repeated the feat just two months later, taking home his second Grand Slam championship of the year – this time with partner Jamie Hunt – in the US Open boys’ doubles event.
Competing in a difficult draw, Hunt and Schnugg pulled out three-set wins in four of their five matches and knocked off two seeded teams – No. 7 seeds Michal Konecny of the Czech Republic and Anrej Martin of Slovakia, 7-6 (4), 4-6, 6-4, in the second round and No. 2 Pavel Chekhov of Russia and Petru-Alexandru Luncanu of Romania, 2-6, 7-6 (4), 6-4, in the quarterfinals -- en route to the championship. In the final, they posted their only straight-sets win of the tournament, defeating another American pair, Jarmere Jenkins and Austin Krajicek, 6-3, 6-3, for the title.
In addition to the US Open, Schnugg and Hunt teamed to win doubles titles together at the Banana Bowl and the 7th Gerry Weber Open. They also reached the final at the Italian Open and the USTA National Championships.
Overall, Schnugg won an incredible five ITF doubles titles and reached four other finals in 2006, tallying an outstanding 48-8 record in doubles play on the ITF Junior Circuit. He achieved a career-high ranking of No. 24 in the world following the US Open in September and is now listed at No. 26.
Lauren Albanese's Red-Hot Summer
|Lauren Albanese© juniortennis.com|
Lauren Albanese from Coral Springs, Fla., had an incredible run over the summer that brought her to the forefront of American tennis, both at the junior and professional levels.
In July, Albanese had a nine-match winning streak on the USTA Pro Circuit, winning her first pro singles title at the $10,000 event in Wichita, Kan., and then, the following week, advancing to the final of the $10,000 tournament in Evansville, Ind.
The next month, at the age of 16, Albanese captured her first USTA national title at the girls’ 18 USTA National Championships in San Jose, Calif., cruising through all seven of her matches without dropping a set, including the final, where she beat Ashley Weinhold, 6-0, 6-3, for the title.
For winning in San Jose, Albanese received a wild card to compete in the women’s main draw at the US Open, and the 5-foot, 7-inch right-hander took full advantage. She gave an impressive performance in her Grand Slam debut against Olga Savchuk of the Ukraine, winning the match by the score of 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-2. She eventually fell in the second round to 2004 US Open champion and No. 6 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova, 6-1, 6-1.
But Albanese wasn’t finished yet at the US Open because she still had the girls’ draw in which to compete. She went on to post the top result of any American, advancing to the semifinals for her best performance to date at a Grand Slam.
Young Defends Boys’ 18s Title at USTA National Championships
|Donald Young easily advanced in his first match© juniortennis.com|
Donald Young, who won two Grand Slam titles in 2005 and was named last year’s ITF World Junior Champion, played a more limited junior schedule in 2006 to concentrate on competing at the pro level. But when he did return to the junior ranks, he certainly gave notable performances at some of the most prestigious tournaments of the year.
One of his biggest accomplishments came in August at the USTA National Championships in Kalamazoo, Mich., where the 17-year-old lefty from Atlanta swept the singles and doubles titles in the boys’ 18s division. In singles, Young defended the title he won in 2005, cruising through the draw without dropping a set to become the 10th player in the 91-year history of the tournament – and the first since Phillip King in 1999-2000 – to repeat as singles champion.
In doubles, he took home the championship with partner Alexander Clayton, giving the duo its second major doubles title. They also captured the US Open boys' crown last year.
Young’s other results in 2006 include sweeping the singles and doubles titles at the Easter Bowl - US Closed Championships, reaching the semifinals at the US Open and Orange Bowl, and advancing to the round of 16 at the French Open and Wimbledon. He is currently ranked 13th in the ITF World Junior Rankings.
Boyajian Takes Home Four Gold Balls
|Brennan Boyajian, a qualifier in the boys' 18s draw, advanced to the quarterfinals Thursday with a straight-sets win over Brazilian Pedro Zerbini© juniortennis.com|
When looking at Brennan Boyajian’s results from 2006, it’s easy to see why the right-hander from Weston, Fla., was at the top of the boys’ 16 rankings for the first nine months of the year before celebrating his 17th birthday in September.
Boyajian consistently posted excellent results throughout the year, winning a total of four gold balls, including his first at the Easter Bowl in April, his second and third at the USTA National Clay Court Championships in July, where he swept the singles and doubles titles, and his fourth at the USTA National Championships in August.
Other highlights for the talented right-hander during the year include winning the boys’ 18 singles title at the USTA National Open Championships in Tallahassee, Fla., as well as the doubles title at the Florida Open. He also finished runner-up in doubles at two USTA National Championships in Tampa and Naples and reached the singles quarterfinals as a qualifier at the boys’ 18s Orange Bowl, held last week in Key Biscayne, Fla.
Lauren Embree’s Year to Remember
|Lauren Embree battled for almost three hours in her semifinal match against Andreea Mitu before winning, 6-7 (1), 6-2, 7-6 (6)© juniortennis.com|
2006 was an outstanding year for Lauren Embree, who has consistently been at the top of the national rankings since 2003 and is currently ranked first in the USTA girls’ 16s.
Embree, a 15-year-old from Marco Island, Fla., added three more gold balls to her already impressive resume, when she swept the singles and doubles titles at the girls’ 16 USTA National Championships in August and won the doubles title with partner Jessica Alexander at the Easter Bowl in April. She now has a total of seven in her young career.
Among her other results from 2006, Embree won the doubles title, again with Alexander, and reached the singles final at the girls’ 16 Orange Bowl in early December, advanced to the doubles semifinals at the USTA National Clay Court Championships in July, and claimed doubles titles at two USTA National Open Championships, both with Chelsea Preeg, in Tampa, Fla., in February and in Naples, Fla., in May.
Other junior highlights from 2006:
Mallory Burdette picked up two gold balls in 2006 – a singles title at the girls’ 18 USTA National Clay Court Championships, where she also finished in third place in doubles, and a doubles title at the girls’ 18 USTA National Championships.
Nicole Gibbs has been ranked No. 1 in both the girl's 12s and 14s in 2006. Her results this year include winning her second career gold ball at the girls' 14 Clay Courts, reaching the singles final at the USTA National Championships, and finishing in third place in singles at the Easter Bowl 14s.
Currently ranked ninth in the girls’ 14s, Whitney Kay earned the first three gold balls of her career this year, sweeping the girls’ 12 USTA Spring National Championships and the doubles title at the girls’ 14 National Clay Courts. She also won two USTA girls’ 14 National Open titles.
Dennis Kudla, a 14-year-old from Arlington, Va., who is now ranked first in the country in the boys' 14s, had a sensational year, highlighted by winning three gold balls – in singles and doubles (with Junior Ore) at the boys' 14 USTA National Clay Court Championships and in doubles (again with Ore) at the boys' 14 USTA National Championships. He also swept the singles and doubles titles twice this year at National Open tournaments.
Chanelle Van Nguyen, now ranked second in the girls’ 12s, had some big results at the most prestigious girls’ 12 tournaments in the country. She won three gold balls in 2006, capturing the doubles title – and finishing in third place in singles – at both the USTA Spring National Championships and the USTA National Clay Court Championships. She also took home the singles title and finished in third place in doubles at the USTA National Hard Court Championships.
Currently ranked third in the boys’ 14s, Junior Ore of Gaithersburg, Md., won three gold balls in 2006, two at the USTA National Championships, where he swept the singles and doubles titles, and one at the Clay Courts. He teamed with Denis Kudla to win both boys' 14 doubles crowns.
Gordon Watson started the year ranked 40th in the boys’ 12s and eventually moved up to No. 1 in the division. Along the way, he swept the singles and doubles titles at the USTA National Hard Court Championships, captured the singles title at the USTA National Clay Courts, and reached the final at the USTA Spring National Championships.