Friday, January 22, 2016

Australian Open Boys Singles Draw Preview

MELBOURNE, Australia -- While the fields start to narrow down in the men's and women's draws at the Happy Slam, junior tennis is just getting under way, and this year, the junior boys draw is stacked with talent from around the world.

The No. 1 seed at the tournament is Mate Valkusz from Hungary, but all eyes will be on 15-year old Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime, who is the tournament's No. 4 seed and is the first player born in the 21st century to make waves on the senior tour.

Auger-Aliassime has raced to the top 10 of junior tennis in a hurry, reaching a career-high ranking of No. 8 thanks to a run to the title in a Grade 1 event in Bradenton, Florida with two wins over top 10 opponents for his second career Grade 1 title and fourth title overall. The 15-year old also reached the final of a Grade 1 event in his home country, where he nearly upset the No. 1 player in the world Valkusz before eventually falling 6-2, 4-6, 6-4.

Last March, Auger-Aliassime became the youngest player in tennis history to win a main draw match on the Challenger Tour, defeating world No. 493 Andrew Whittingham 6-3, 6-2 as a qualifier. The Canadian isn't only the youngest player to be ranked in the top 800 of the ATP World Tour, but also has an incredible record of 11-3 in qualifying and main draw matches combined.

Auger-Aliassime will likely have to go through a blockbuster match with Yunseong Chung in the quarterfinals to have a shot at a rematch with Valkusz. Chung currently is No. 9 in the world, but the Korean was as high as No. 4 before starting to put more emphasis on futures tournaments, which have helped him reach a current world ranking of No.709 on the ATP World Tour.

Valkusz will be the tournament's favorite and is on the same half of the draw as the Canadien. Valkusz is a 17 year old from Hungary, which as a country currently does not have a representative in the top 100.

The world No. 1 could meet American Ulises Blanch in the quarterfinals and also has Australian Oliver Anderson looming in his section of the draw. Blanch is the only seeded American in the draw and he is coming off a title in Traralgon. Last year, the winner in Traralgon reached the final of the Australian Open.

Serb Miomir Kecmanovic is the tournament's No. 2 seed overall despite being the fourth youngest player in the top 100 of the junior tour at 16 years old. Kecmanovic will look to dodge some of the woes that have inflicted former Serbian stars on the junior tour when it is his time to make the transition to the professional ranks.

The most famous Serbian tennis player, Novak Djokovic, didn't have a very notable junior career, but since him, a number of Serbs have been dominant on the junior tour. Nikola Milojevic was the top-ranked junior player in the world. Laslo Djere peaked at No. 3 in the junior rankings. Meanwhile Pedja Krstin and Miki Jankovic both peaking inside the top 25 of the junior rankings, which is right around where Djokovic peaked in his junior career. However, none of those four Serbs have reached the top 100 yet.

In his half of the draw, Kecmanovic has No. 3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas from Greece, who upset Valkusz in the Orange Bowl semifinals. However, his best result at the majors last year was a quarterfinal finish in Melbourne.

Alex De Minaur is the only of 11 Australians in the draw to be seeded, and he has a good draw to reach the quarterfinals, where he could potentially face Tsitsipas. De Minaur is currently at a career-high ranking of No. 10 on the junior circuit.

Last year, the Australian had a brutal draw in Melbourne, but nearly upset Seong Chan Hong, eventually falling 5-7, 7-5, 6-8. His last three losses on the junior tour were to Auger-Aliassime in the final in Bradenton and then twice to Kecmanovic.

First-round action is underway on Friday on the outside courts.

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