This post is partly inspired by a very well-written piece, titled “Kidspiration,” (definitely worth a read) by Kait O’Callahan on the Tennis Australia website. She writes about her visit to the Optus 14s Australian Teams Championships, where she saw 14-year olds hit and play. Below is an excerpt I especially liked from her account of the tournament:
I’ve always found watching young people play serious tennis inspirational. I love watching their mannerisms – did that Queensland boy just pull at his shirt like Andy Roddick? – and their emotion. They’re raw, at this stage in their tennis years, and they play that way. Far too many of them are overly aggressive; you see many balls land in the top of the net and hear the accompanied cries of frustration.
I’m also reminded of the fearlessness of youth. Gael Monfils antics are the norm as kids skid over the court, racquets toppling, lanky limbs falling to the ground. A kid hobbles past with an ice-pack strapped to his knee. It’s no wonder.
Her article reminds me of Del Potro’s 14s Junior Orange Bowl title in 2002, when he defeated Marin Cilic in the SF. Below is a short clip from the match. Cilic’s slight frame and casual service motion are close approximations of the Cilic of now (he always looks so fragile to me). You can see DelPo was a comically serial “Vamos-er” as a 14-year old, cracking his adolescent voice (I counted 10 “vamos-es” in the 3 minute video clip below). In 2002, DelPo’s languorous manner behind the baseline is there, although he hasn’t yet developed the huge back swings he takes on his forehands. His on-court demeanor is a marked change–the mini-elf is a hilarious study in intensity. I feel even if no one attended his match, he’d have done enough cheering for himself to push on:
You can also see the “fearlessness of youth” that O’Callahan observes in juniors, when watching mini-DelPo’s positioning for his return of serve. He stands well inside the baseline to return Cilic’s 2nd serve–it makes me wonder, at what age do pro tennis players start to retreat behind the baseline for their returns? What a difference nine odd years make. Happily, DelPo’s also polished his manners over the years–he no longer exults at his opponent’s unforced errors and double faults.
For Dolgopolov fans, here’s a link to a junior match that Dolly played as a 14- or 15-year old. The guy had a serious backhand slice since his teen years.