U.S. JUNIOR FED CUP
PLAYERS LEARNING FROM THE PROS
Ashley Marshall | April 20, 2017
WESLEY CHAPEL, FLA. – As Team USA's Fed Cup players sat on a stage fielding questions about the upcoming semifinal tie against the Czech Republic, three talented 15-year-olds were watching intently from the front row of the crowd.
Decked out in the same red, white and blue tracksuits as the stars on the stage, that trio of players represents one bright section of the future of American tennis.
Whitney Osuigwe, Caty McNally and Natasha Subhash are among the top junior players in the world, each ranked inside the Top 65 of the world junior rankings. The players are part of Team USA's development camp and they are in town to learn from the best in the business before they travel to Mexico to represent the U.S. in the Junior Fed Cup.
Osuigwe is the highest-ranked of the trio. She won a pair of clay-court singles titles in February, claiming the crown at the Asuncion Bowl in Lambare, Paraguay, and the Banana Bowl in Criciuma, Brazil.
Earlier this month, she won the Easter Bowl doubles title with McNally and reached the semifinals of the singles competition, and she hopes her experiences at the Saddlebrook Resort this week will help prepare her for her professional career.
"It's nice to see what they're doing now, because who knows, maybe one day we'll all be doing it," said Osuigwe, who is ranked No. 15 in the world. "I've played one Junior Fed Cup before (in 2016 in the Czech Republic), so it's nice to see the difference between the junior level and get to know [the Fed Cup players] a little bit better off the court."
Read more: U.S. Junior Fed Cup team members hit with Tampa-area high school girls
Team USA has won the junior Fed Cup three times, all inside the past decade. The U.S. last held the junior title in 2014, but the girls also reached the final in each of the past two years. With a pipeline to rich talent in the wings, it may only be a matter of time before the Junior Fed Cup returns home.
"It's very exciting just imagining that one day we might be up there," said Subhash, who is ranked No. 64 and reached the semifinals of the Australian Open girls' juniors doubles event with McNally in January. "They're so many of us, too; it's not just us three."
There are currently 17 American junior girls in the Top 100, with another 14 ranked between 101 and 200.
Among them is 43rd-ranked junior McNally, who represented the U.S. in Junior Fed Cup in the Czech Republic in 2015 and in Budapest, Hungary, in 2016.
McNally, who has competed in the girls' juniors event at all four Grand Slams, said the biggest thing she has taken from the camp is that international team events are as much about the team bond and camaraderie as it is about the players' rankings.
"It's not all about the rankings or who they have," said the Cincinnati native, who came through qualifying to win her first professional match at the USTA Pro Circuit event in Evansville, Ind., last July. "It's about being a team and supporting each other on the court. When you're together and working together, you can have some good wins and you can do really well.
"It's definitely been really nice. I played Fed Cup twice so far for the juniors, but we never got to be around the other girls. It's definitely something we've never had before so it's nice."
After the juniors return from South America at the end of the month, they'll travel to Europe for the clay-court season and stay through Wimbledon. After that, they'll fly back to the U.S. to prepare for the USTA Girls’ 18s National Hard Courts, with the ultimate goal of impressing enough to get a wild card into the main draw of the US Open in August.
"It's been a great pleasure," USTA national coach of junior development Erik Kortland said. "I've known them since they were 10 or 11 years old, and it's been four or five years now being around them and traveling with them and watching them grow up as young ladies and now become professionals. It's amazing.”
Overseeing all of it is Fed Cup captain Kathy Rinaldi. Prior to becoming U.S. captain in December, Rinaldi served as a lead national coach within USTA’s player development unit. And with the Fed Cup captaincy role being expanded to include working year-round with America’s top players, she is in the perfect position to blend the young players with the members of Team USA.
Rinaldi led the U.S. to multiple junior international team competition titles, including the Junior Fed Cup in both 2012 and 2014 and back-to-back 14-and-under World Junior Tennis titles in 2009-10.
“It's amazing to have Kathy mentor them and to be around the pros and see what it takes and to help them believe to get to that position some day,” said Kortland. “We find it's one of the biggest developmental things we can do."