RISING TEEN OSUIGWE
NOT RESTING ON HER LAURELS
Alex Sharp | October 30, 2017
'Eyes on the stars and feet on the ground.’ This is a rather apt recent tweet from American tennis prodigy Whitney Osuigwe, who continues to put in the work in the junior ranks, all while eyeing a future as a top-level pro.
Osuigwe has enjoyed an outstanding 2017. The 15-year-old won her maiden junior Grand Slam title at Roland Garros, before reaching the doubles final and singles quarterfinals at junior Wimbledon. To top it off, Osuigwe helped lead the U.S. girls' team to the 2017 Junior Fed Cup title.
Those results propelled her to the top of the world junior rankings and earned her a spot in the prestigious ITF Junior Masters in Chengdu, China, which invite the top eight boys and girls in the world to compete in a format similar to the WTA Finals or ATP Finals.
Osuigwe entered the draw in Chengdu in top form, having lifted the title in Tulsa, Okla., and then finishing runner-up at the Grade A Osaka Mayor's Cup in Osaka, Japan.
“I’ve never played a tournament quite like this with the top eight; I’m really excited,” said Osuigwe ahead of competing in China.
“Obviously, the tournament holds the best of the best, so I’m excited to play for the first time and see how I can do.”
Osuigwe powered through the round-robin stage unbeaten with a devastating brand of power tennis. A 6-2, 6-4 triumph over Argentine Maria Lourdes Carle set the tone for a commanding 6-3, 6-4 win over Elena Rybakina of Russia. She wrapped up a 3-0 round robin by battling through a 4-6, 6-1, 6-2 victory over compatriot Sofia Sewing.
“I’ve had a lot of matches coming into here, a lot of wins, so I have a lot of confidence,” reflected Osuigwe, after advancing through the round-robin group stage to earn a spot in the semifinals. “I’ve touched up on a lot of things in my game in the past couple of months, with my serve, movement and I’m purposively playing aggressively.”
Her run at the title came to an end in the semifinals, with Osuigwe falling to Slovakia’s Kaja Juvan, 7-5, 6-1. Afterward, she offered a frank assessment of the defeat.
“I think today I came out pretty nervous,” she admitted. “That doesn’t suit my game. In order to play that, I need to be free and I didn’t manage to do that. She also played really well, so credit to her.”
In her next match, Osuigwe proved that she learned her lesson from the loss, recording a dominant 6-2, 6-2 victory over Carle in the third-place playoff to secure a spot on the podium.
“Against Juvan I struggled a little bit, but today I knew it mattered so I played free," Osuigwe said. "I think I probably started the week pretty strong. My best match was my third against Rybakina and today [against Carle] was pretty good too.”
Osuigwe admires the fighting on-court qualities illustrated by Victoria Azarenka and is ready to channel that spirit in the quest for the year-end No. 1 junior ranking.
“It’s a goal I set with my team at the beginning of the year,” said Osuigwe, who currently holds a narrow lead for the top spot over fellow American Claire Liu and ITF Junior Masters champion Marta Kostyuk. “If I can achieve that, it would be pretty amazing.”
Her father Desmond, who played on the ATP World Tour, is a coach at the IMG Academy in Florida and has nurtured his daughter’s career, helping to create an environment to succeed. For her part, Osuigwe is eager to learn, and the father-daughter combo next hope to utilize events such as the ITF Junior Masters as a springboard for bigger things in 2018.
“At this tournament, I wanted to gain more knowledge about the transition into the pros, and I've learned a lot from the people here and the WTA people coming in to talk to us,” Osuigwe said. “I’m just developing my game and hopefully I can finish the year No. 1, but over the next six months I’m just focusing on the challenges posed at the pros. I’m going to play a couple more [ITF] Futures and see how I do.”