*As she looks forward to turning professional
Bradenton’s Whitney Osuigwe made sure her year of dramatic rise through the ranks of junior tennis concluded with little drama last Sunday in a dominating win.
The number one-ranked junior girl ripped through the first five games and left no doubt in dispatching Margaryta Bilokin of Ukraine 6-1, 6-2 in the Girls’ U-18s final in the Orange Bowl International Tennis championships at Plantation Central Park.
Osuigwe, who began the year ranked No. 95, had clinched the ITF Junior World championship before this past week. The 15 year old is already looking ahead to playing professionally next year.
“I’ve always done pretty well here, getting to the semis last year and winning [the U-12s division] the time I played before that,” she said. “So I was really excited to win this tournament and finish off — maybe this is my last junior match, I don’t know, but to finish off my junior career like this, that’s amazing.”
After falling behind 5-2 in the opening set of the semi-finals the day before against Joanna Garland, Osuigwe was intent on a strong start on a bright but unseasonably chilly, windy morning at the Veltri Tennis Centre.
“I thought I played pretty good,” she said. “I was pretty on it from the beginning, knowing that yesterday I kind of let [Garland] take a lead before I really got into it. So I was just trying to stay focused from the beginning to the end.”
Turns out there was a reason for the slow start in the semis, that saw Osuigwe down two service breaks before rallying to take the set in a tie-breaker. Amid the confusion of Saturday’s five-hour rain delay, she was late arriving for her match with Garland.
“I would say coaches make mistakes too,” said Desmond Osuigwe, her father and also her coach. “That’s a mistake from us. We were not on time. She just got here and just played, no warm up.”
With the temperature in the low 50s on Sunday, Osuigwe made sure she had ample time to warm up for the final. The preparation showed as her ground strokes were precise from the start, while unseeded Bilokin was prone to unforced errors throughout the one-sided first set.
Although, the first three games went at least to deuce, Osuigwe quickly asserted command in going up a break.
Bilokin, who like Osuigwe trains at IMG Academy in Bradenton, double-faulted twice to open the second set and was quickly down a break. Although, there were more extended rallies as the match progressed, the outcome was inevitable.
Osuigwe has won in straight sets all three times she has faced Bilokin, but their previous meeting at the U. S. Open was more closely contested.
“I was nervous playing the first time in U.S. Open, being the No. 1 seed there,” Osuigwe said. “Here it was just super windy and I think I dealt with it a lot better than she did today. I feel maybe she was a little more tentative with her serve today.”
Osuigwe won points on 74 percent of her first serves compared to 44 percent for Bilokin.
Adding the prestigious Orange Bowl title capped a remarkable year for Osuigwe, who claimed her first major title in the Junior French Open and helped the United States win the Junior Fed Cup. She won six singles and three doubles titles on the ITF Junior Circuit.
Now she has her sights set on a more tangible prize.
“I’m going to convince my dad to take me car shopping,” she said.
Desmond Osuigwe is from Nigeria and played briefly on the men’s ATP Tour in the late 90s before becoming a teaching pro at IMG. He got Whitney on the courts at the academy as soon as she could walk.
“I think the biggest achievement was improving her mental game,” Desmond Osuigwe said of his daughter’s breakthrough season. “I think it’s the beginning of the journey. I think we’re going one step ahead to the next level and we’re just going to have to continue working hard.”
Osuigwe is part of a promising new wave of young American women. Two others are in the top 10 junior rankings.
The Orange Bowl girls’ 18s had seven Americans among the top 10 seeds. Chloe Beck, who wasn’t seeded, was the other U.S. player to reach the semis, losing to Bilokin.
France’s Hugo Gaston took the Boys’ 18s title 6-2, 6-3 against Dostanbek Tashbulatov of Kazakhstan. The lefty Gaston, seeded 11th, upset No. 1 seed Timofey Skatov in the semi-finals.