Forward-thinking Sebastian Baez is looking to “ice the cake” as he prepares to mix it with the best of the junior crop for a second time at the ITF Junior Masters in Chengdu.
It remains to be seen whether Baez’s choice of phrase is some form of prophecy given the players’ baking skills are set to be put to the test in a dumpling-making competition on Sunday evening.
But whipping up a storm in the kitchen is only a sideshow for Baez, who is ranked No. 3 in the world junior rankings, and the 17-year-old is intent on rising to the on-court challenge.
He arrives in Chengdu fresh from winning doubles gold at the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, the place of his birth, alongside fellow Argentinian Facundo Diaz Acosta. Further success is very much on his mind.
“To win the ITF Junior Masters would be the icing on the cake now that I am at the end of my junior career and I am focused on achieving that,” said Baez, who finished fourth in last year’s boys’ draw.
“Qualifying for Chengdu is a prize for all my efforts. Last year, I was proud to be fourth out of all those players who play at a great level. To be there again makes me think that I’m still demonstrating a good tennis level.
“It is incredible that this is my second year and it is a result of all the hard work I have put in.”
Roland Garros finalist Baez has enjoyed a productive 2018, chalking up four junior titles in singles and doubles in addition to his Youth Olympics gold, while he has also packed a punch on the Pro Circuit with runs to the latter stages of tournaments.
Like many competitors within this year’s boys’ draw, Baez points to the exploits of Finland’s Emil Ruusuvuori, who was the lowest-ranked player at the ITF Junior Masters 12 months ago but ripped up the script to claim the coveted title.
The post-Chengdu achievements of girls’ winner Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine have also been cited after she reached the third round of the Australian Open only months later. Both act as inspiration for the ambitious Baez.
“Emil was the last one to enter the ITF Junior Masters,” he added. “He was nervous and there were other players with perhaps a greater claim to win, but he demonstrated that you can be the first or the last to enter, but have the same chance of winning.
“He and Marta were both much more confident after the ITF Junior Masters. You are competing against the best of the junior game and their level was better than some more advanced in the development process. It is super important to do well.”
Since 2017, the ITF Junior Masters, which this year takes place between 22-28 October, has been fully incorporated into the 18-and-under ITF Junior Circuit, and offers junior world ranking points which help determine the year-end No. 1 ranking.
The boys’ and girls’ singles events consist of two round-robin groups of four players with the top two in each group qualifying for the semifinals.