Roland Garros 2021: Bruno Kuzuhara returns to juniors as No. 2 seed after pro debut
After starting the 2021 season as one of the hottest juniors in the world, Bruno Kuzuhara made his pro-level debut on the USTA Pro Circuit in April. After scaling the learning curve at that Tallahassee Challenger event in Florida, and again at an M15 event in Spain, the 17-year-old earned his first ITF men’s wins at another M15 event in Helsinki.
For Roland Garros, he will return to the junior tour as the No. 2 seed and the top-ranked American in the draw. It will be his third junior Slam appearance, and he is seeking his first major victory after first-round exits at the 2019 US Open and 2020 French Open.
Kuzuhara is in prime position to build on his success from earlier this year, when he reached the semifinals or better at six consecutive junior tournaments, including a title at a Grade 1 event in Paraguay. That run was the reward for his extensive training on and off the court during the pandemic, as well as a stint working with USTA Player Development coach Brian Baker at the National Campus last fall and winter.
His success has led to a world junior ranking of No. 5, just behind compatriot Martin Damm, whom Kuzuhara could pass for the honor of No. 1 American boy with a deep run in Paris. But the youngster remains focused on the process over any immediate results.
“[The ranking] is something that I feel happy about, but at the end of the day it’s just a number,” he told USTA.com in a recent interview. “It’s mostly just about staying humble… just keep working.”
A resident of Coconut Creek, Florida, Kuzuhara was born in Brazil and moved from Sao Paulo to the U.S. with his parents—both of whom also have Japanese backgrounds—at the age of 1. But the American’s Roland Garros training base this spring was at Barcelona Total Tennis (BTT), through a USTA PD partnership with the academy. BTT was also the site of the men’s ITF event Kuzuhara played in Spain this May.
“I would say the biggest difference in the transition from juniors to the pros is just the intensity,” he reflected, “the physical intensity, the mental intensity it takes to really be engaged throughout the entire match.”
He plans to shift his schedule to include more pro events this year, with a long-term goal of reaching the ATP’s Top 30. College tennis is still an option for Kuzuhara (Class of 2022), and while he has begun early discussions with college coaches, he is still in the exploratory stages of his decision-making process.
In the immediate future, his focus is on improving his serve and “serve plus one” to better compete at the men’s level.
“The main goal is to play a lot of pro matches and learn from that and go back on the training court,” he explained, “just being able to work on what I need to improve and start incorporating those aspects into my game.”
At Roland Garros, there is no one better to learn from them 13-time champion Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard is Kuzuhara’s favorite player and an inspiration for him on the court.
“I feel that I can identify myself a bit on the court with the way he fights. That’s something that I’ve always admired from him,” said the American.
“He definitely hits a way heavier ball than me,” he added with a laugh. “I try to look to play as aggressive as I can within reason, and use my movement as a as a weapon.”
Starting Monday, Kuzuhara will do his best to emulate Nadal by winning a title of his own on the Paris clay. His French Open singles campaign begins on Court 10 against Adam Jurajda of the Czech Republic. He is also competing in doubles, alongside Brazil’s Joao Victor Couto Loureiro.