The tennis teens attempting to tame the beasts of the pro tour

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Potential star: Australia's Nick Kyrgios has found the senior ATP tour a tough nut to crack.

As Michael Chang walks the grounds at Roland Garros, accompanied by student Kei Nishikori, we’re reminded of his breakthrough French Open triumph as a 17-year-old back in 1989.

Twenty-five years later and there are only two teenagers in the men’s draw in Paris – one qualifier and one wildcard.

The women’s draw fares slightly better, with nine teenagers in action under the guise of three wildcards, one qualifier and the rest encouragingly having gained direct entry by virtue of their WTA ranking.

In 128-player draws, the younger players are definitely an anomaly and with most of them making the transition from juniors to the men’s and women’s circuits, their young bodies and minds are put under extreme pressure as they adapt to their new surroundings.

“I think it’s just the ability to be able to back up week after week,” Australian Nick Kyrgios told Sport360 after his loss to Milos Raonic in the first round.

“Tennis is a tough sport, there’s only one winner every week so you’ve got to become a really good loser. I think physically and mentally, that’s the two biggest things.

“They’re not just good tennis players (on the men’s tour), they’re physical beasts. But mentally as well when you take a loss, you’ve got to be able to bounce back and just enjoy yourself out there as well.”

The Canberra-native, who was the world No1 junior and Australian Open junior title winner last year, says there are also many distractions that are tough to deal with at the start.

“I think it’s just small things, even when I was playing out on Suzanne Lenglen – just the screens. I’m sort of looking around a bit, when I look at Milos (Raonic), his head is down,” added the French Open wildcard.

“I think that will just come with experience. I’m looking around a fair bit. There’s a lot of distractions when you’re playing a Grand Slam. You can get carried away.”

Kyrgios says he’s already learnt the hard way earlier in the year.

“I think the second round of the Australian Open, being two sets to love up and a break I just thought I could handle my emotions a bit better and the way I went about it. I like getting the crowd involved and that’s never going to change, I just think I’ve got to stay a bit level-headed while I’m out there and not get too excited.”

He went on to lose the next three sets and was dumped out of his home Slam by Benoit Paire.

The men’s locker room has been an “inviting” place for Kyrgios and while he spends most of his time with fellow Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis, he’s managed to make friends with older players like Gael Monfils, Dustin Brown and even Radek Stepanek.

On the women’s circuit it’s quite different.

World No33 Elina Svitolina, 19, who won Roland Garros juniors in 2010, Australian Ashleigh Barty, 18, who is ranked No15 in doubles, and American ex-junior world No1 Taylor Townsend all agree that the transition was huge from juniors to the women’s circuit and that the players typically keep to themselves, with everyone sticking to their own teams.

They say the physical aspect has been the main challenge, with Svitolina saying she is having to work three or four times as hard just to keep up.

“It was different in the juniors and of course you have different thinking when you go on the court. Now it’s more serious, you have all your team with you all the time, doing things before your match and everything is more consistent in your game,” explains the young Ukrainian.

“I think the most important is that you work harder than before. Because you were the best junior, you think that it’s enough to become a top-100 WTA player but I don’t think it’s true because you need to work like three or four times harder to raise your level and keep the level.

“Because juniors they’re more good, bad results and all the time in matches you can see the focus is going away. But on the women’s tennis you don’t see that often.

“So it’s important you work on these things. Also of course physically it’s important to work on that because the players are stronger on the women’s circuit.”

Townsend, 18, won her first ever Grand Slam main draw match this week in Paris.

“It’s totally different. The transition is a whole different mentality,” said Townsend, a former Australian Open junior champion.

“When I was here I used to go where the stringer is and play on the trampoline and stuff, and I still did well.

“It’s a different intensity and this is now my livelihood. This is my income. You want to make money and you want to take advantage of all the opportunities that you can.

“A lot of things are different and the transition is not easy.”

She says she keeps to herself in the locker room, adding: “It’s not intimidating, I just get in and get out. I try not to spend much time in the locker room. It can be intimidating if you sit in there and see all these people coming in and out and no one talks to you. But I have my team around me and my people to support me.”

Svitolina says she also doesn’t socialise much with other players, barring some Ukrainians and Russians.

“I just try to be friendly with everyone, I don’t have any enemies on the tour. I’m more of a focused person than speaking with anyone, so I like to stay with my team and focus before my match, it’s more important for me.”

On the court, the competition amongst the WTA teenagers is fierce.

Svitolina is already in the top-40, Donna Vekic became the youngest player to win a WTA title in eight years by winning in Kuala Lumpur last month.

Youngsters such as Eugenie Bouchard and Monica Puig have also won titles and are rapidly rising up the ranks.

Barty, who won Wimbledon juniors in 2011, says she would prefer to take a slower route to the top of the women’s singles and that she's gainging valuable experience through her surprise doubles success with Casey Dellacqua.

“I think I’m in a slightly different situation because I’ve been playing doubles with Casey,” said Barty, ranked 172 in the world.

“I’ve been in the locker room late in Slams, it’s just a bit of a different feeling. I think I’m taking a different route to a lot of the other teenagers. I’m really taking my time (in singles). It’s obviously mentally very different to the juniors, but I’m enjoying every moment of it.

“I think everyone’s personality is different. A lot of girls who are similar to my age like Donna Vekic or Genie Bouchard or Monica Puig, they’ve risen very quickly. For me I’m not worried about rankings at all. This is a journey that we get to enjoy as professional tennis players. You get to travel the world and play on beautiful courts and visit amazing places, so I’m soaking it all in.

“I don’t focus too much on what the other girls are doing. Everyone’s in a unique situation. I don’t think any of the other girls are ranked in the top-15 in doubles so we’re in different situations and going at it in different ways.”

Still one thing is evident. The young girls are doing better than the young guys at the moment. Andy Murray was asked if he had any thoughts as to why that is the case. The two-time major champion said: "In terms of like the slams and stuff, obviously with it being best of five, that's a young age, endurance‑wise it's tough. 

"I think the men's game, the last few years have become extremely physical. I think there's some guys like ‑  for me Kyrgios and Kokkinakis, they are both very, very good players, good teenagers, and I think there is a good chance of those two could break into top 100 fairly soon.

"But, yeah, I think to get into the top 100 as a teenager, you need to be exceptional. It's not an easy thing to do."

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Reem's Roland Garros round-up - Day Four

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Serving up a treat: The Roland Garros fans have been blessed by the tennis on show.

Sport360°'s tennis expert Reem Abulleil is in Paris for the 2014 French Open and will be providing regular updates throughout the tournament on this 'Live at Roland Garros' page.

So for all the latest breaking news, photos, social media activity, and everything else Roland Garros-related, this is the place to be… (timings below are Paris local time, two hours behind UAE time)

19:40 Taylor Townsend continues the "Youth Movement" as she dispatches No20 seed Alize Cornet 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 for only the second Grand Slam victory over her career. Brilliant stuff from the 18-year-old American. Maria Sharapova safely through to the next round and establishes herself as the main favourite for the title following Serena and Li Na's exit.

It's actually the first time in Open era history that the top two seeds have lost in a Grand Slam prior to the third round.

** I asked Djokovic and Berdych who they'd pick as the favourite for the women's title. Any guesses who they picked?

18:42 Not a pretty set point with a net cord but Sharapova overcame an early break to come back and take the first set 7-5 from Pironkova. Meanwhile American teenager Taylor Townsend was about to be a set and a double break up against No20 seed Cornet but instead has dropped the second set and will have to get the momentum back on her side if she plans on taking the decider.

17:30 It may be a bloodbath on the women's side but the top men are moving forward unscathed today as Tsonga joins Federer and Djokovic as straight sets winners into the third round.

16:06 Berdych stuck in a tough battle with Nedovyesov on Court 1. Climbed from a set down, made it two-sets-to-one but now trailing 0-3 in the fourth. No Flower Power today? Meanwhile Federer is in control on Lenglen and same goes for Tsonga on Chatrier against Melzer.

14:47 Asked to describe her season so far Serena says she has a couple of words but it would be inappropriate to say them. She didn't complain about anything physically. Says it wasn't her day, and that her serve wasn't there.

14:30 AND SHE'S DONE IT! Garbine Muguruza beats Serena Williams 6-2, 6-2 in 64 minutes. The defending champion is gone. The tournament has lost its top two seeds in two consecutive days.

14:27 Muguruza is one game away from the biggest upset of her career. This is the Spaniard's first meeting with a world No1

14:04 Are we losing both Williams sisters on the same day? Gabine Muguruza took the first set 6-2 from Serena and breaks in the opening game of the second set. Patrick Mouratoglou told me yesterday that "only Serena can beat Serena". Maybe Muguruza also can?

13:48 Muguruza breaks again for a 4-1 lead. Serena's still asleep. Over on Court 16, Dustin Brown is following a doubles match and sent out this tweet:

Dustin Brown @DreddyTennis

Court 16 … 1 Pakistani / 1 Indian Vs. 1 Pakistani / 1 Indian…

13:40 BREAK! Spaniard Garbine Muguruza breaks Serena Williams for a 2-1 lead on Court Suzanne Lenglen.

13:33 Steve Johnson completes a three-hour 57 minute win over qualifier Laurent Lokoli 4-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-3, 6-3 for his first career five-set win (1-5). Plays fellow American Jack Sock next.

13:28 Au revoir Venus! The American sent packing by No29 seed sent packing by the 19-year-old Schmiedlova 2-6, 6-3, 6-4. Whispers around the press room that she never really wanted to face Serena. Fair assumption or ridiculous accusation?

Meanwhile Schmiedlova (2012 Roland Garros junior runner-up) is overcome by emotion on court after the first top-30 win of her career: "This is the biggest win of my life. It's unbelievable. I have big respect for her. I still cannot believe I won!"

12:52 Venus in real trouble now on Chatrier. Down 0-3 in the third to world No56 Schmiedlova, who is one of nine teenagers in the women's draw this fortnight. An all-Williams third round looking less and less likely!

12:29 Genie Bouchard has recovered against Goerges. Took the second set and broke in the opening game of the third. Up next on this court is the continuation of the fifth set between French teenager Laurent Lokoli and American Steve Johnson, which was suspended for darkness last night. Lokoli, who was in that incredible dance-off with Monfils, was up two sets and serving for the match before he crumbled under the pressure. Match was suspended with him trailing Johnson 1-3 in the fifth. Think he got his head back overnight?

11:39 Venus Williams is up a break on Chatrier against teenager Schmiedlova, Ernests Gulbis is cruising against Argentinean hero Facundo Bagnis, who beat Benneteau 18-16 in the fifth in the first round to tie the record for longest games in a set here in Roland Garros. Stepanek just bageled Youzhny (what's happening, General?), while Germany's Julia Goerges is off to a good start against Eugenie Bouchard. Too soon to get excited for Goerges but hope she gets her mojo back this tournament!!

11:30 Bonjour from Pariiiis! Cloudy and chilly today again and some showers expected during the day. Interesting match on Court 1 between Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut and unpredictable Frenchman Benoit Paire, who exchanged early breaks and are now on serve seven games in.

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Sport360° view: Wawrinka’s early exit shows life at the top is tough

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Waving goodbye to his French Open hopes: Stan Wawrinka.

The sight of Stan Wawrinka on Monday night after his shock loss to Guillermo Garcia- Lopez was a picture of a lost man.

He was trying to put on a brave face, answering questions with grace and patience, but it was clear the defeat was as big as a surprise to him as it was to everyone else.

Since the Swiss won his first Grand Slam at the Australian Open last January, he’s been streaky. He lost in the last 16 in Indian Wells and Miami, lost a tough Davis Cup match to Andrey Golubev in Switzerland, bounced back by winning Monte Carlo in tremendous fashion, but then crashed out early in both Madrid and Rome.

They were all signs of a player struggling to keep up with his status as world No3 and a major champion. But the real test was always going to be Paris. A place where he made the quarters last year and where he can prove his mettle in best-of-five matches against strong opponents.

And make no mistake, Garcia Lopez is a strong opponent. But not one who would render Wawrinka as powerless as he was in the third and fourth sets, where he mustered only two games.

He was later unable to explain his lack of solutions on court and gave a philosophical answer at first saying: “Sometimes you need to have some tough one to see exactly where you want to go and how you’re going to do it.”

But he went on to say how he needed to collect all the pieces of the “puzzle” and figure out how he can handle himself as a a top-ranked player.

It is a situation we have grown accustomed to on the women’s tour but not necessarily on the men’s. When Roger Federer won his first major in Wimbledon 2003, he then made the fourth round in the US Open and then won another slam in Australia a few months later.

Rafael Nadal won Roland Garros in 2005 as a 19-year-old then crashed out of the second round in Wimbledon, but he wasn’t that comfortable on grass and it wasn’t much of a shock. A third round then a title victory followed in his subsequent two majors.

Novak Djokovic’s Grand Slam breakthrough path looks like this: semi-final, semi-final, final, win, semi-final.

Andy Murray followed his US Open maiden triumph with a final then another title win. But Wawrinka is different to those players.

He played for so many years at a significantly lower level than them and in total, he owns just seven titles – three of which he won only this season.

Ana Ivanovic, whose sole slam came in Paris in 2008, said she can relate to Wawrinka’s situation saying the attention that suddenly comes after breaking through is not easy to deal with, nor is the pressure of expectation.

For Wawrinka, it’s one thing to get closer and closer to beating the top guys and finally doing it and it’s another animal being just as dominant against the lower-ranked guys in every single event.

That’s what the ‘Big Four’ have been exceptional at and that’s what Wawrinka is now trying to figure out. The important thing for him is not to treat this as a disaster.

He has Magnus Norman in his corner who can help give him perspective and this Roland Garros lesson will definitely help him prepare better for the upcoming slams.

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