France’s Clara Burel exorcised the ghost of finals past to beat Maria Camila Osorio Serrano of Colombia and seal the title of 2018 ITF Junior Masters girls’ champion in Chengdu on Sunday.
Current world No. 2 Burel had contrived to stumble at the decisive hurdle of the Australian Open, US Open and the Youth Olympic Games during 2018 but had her day in the Chinese sun courtesy of a 76(6) 61 victory.
“It’s my first trophy this year. I’ve had some tough finals and it has been very painful for me to lose every time in the final so I am very happy to get my hands on this trophy,” said an ecstatic Burel, who is the first French player to win the ITF Junior Masters.
“Winning a title will give me a lot of confidence for the next few months and for playing on the Pro Circuit.”
The 17-year-old returned to Centre Court where she had been until close to 10pm the previous evening following a rain-interrupted semifinal showdown against Australian Open winner Liang En Shuo.
Burel at no stage reached top gear, but was relieved to simply haul herself over the finishing line, in the process chalking up her fourth triumph in quick succession over Osorio Serrano dating back to their clash at Flushing Meadows last month.
“I am very proud and very happy with my match. It was very tough and I was very nervous at the beginning, so I’m delighted to have come through that,” added Burel.
“I didn’t play my best tennis. Camila was playing great in the first set and I just had to try and find my way and fight for every ball.”
After composing herself with a warm down in the gym and chat with her coach Alejandro Falla, Osorio Serrano was able to put defeat firmly into context, preferring to consider the bigger picture of her long-term career.
“I’m happy with what I have done this week but I have to keep working harder and harder to be the No. 1 in the world, not in juniors but in the WTA rankings,” said Osorio Serrano.
“I’m getting better. I am improving my serve, shots and my backhand. Maybe I’m moving better also – maybe not today but generally – and going forward this week will really help me.
“The good thing about tennis is there is always another tournament to turn my attentions to and I will do that following an unbelievable week.
“I lost to Clara in the first game but then beat the No. 1-ranked player in the world [Wang Xiyu], [Eleonora] Molinaro and Clara Tauson, who had just won the Grade A in Osaka. It has been a really good week for me.”
During the players’ visit to the panda base on Monday, Osorio Serrano had sportingly donned an inflatable panda costume, at which point Burel joked that perhaps the duo should have a match with both in the unusual garb.
That might have been a more pertinent dress rehearsal for the final than their showdown during the tournament’s opening round of fixtures, when Burel brushed aside the Cucuta-born right-hander with considerable ease.
The two matches bore little resemblance and, make no mistake, despite a straight sets triumph, the final was no walk in the park for Burel. She was blighted by double faults throughout, serving 11 in total and eight alone in a first set, during which she trailed 5-2.
She saved set point before winning four successive games, although double Youth Olympic medallist Osorio Serrano broke back to force a tiebreak. She held a 4-1 and then 6-4 advantage, but the steely Burel prevailed 8-6.
On paper, the second set would appear something of a procession but, in truth, both players had their chances, with Osorio Serrano wasting three break points while trailing 3-1 before Burel stormed home.
Osorio Serrano had to fight all week after losing to Burel on Wednesday, but following a medical timeout the 16-year-old’s never-say-die spirit looked to be waning. Burel broke and settled matters with a masterful ace.
“Today wasn’t my day,” added Osorio Serrano, who finished fifth at last year’s ITF Junior Masters. “It was a really tough match. I knew Clara was playing well – she hadn’t lost a set all week – but I gave my best. Perhaps it just wasn’t meant to be.
“I didn’t close the first set and I lost focus. I only had to win one point and perhaps after that I started the second set a little differently. I started losing too many points in a row, probably because of the way that first set ended.”
Third place went to Denmark’s Clara Tauson, the youngest player in the girls’ draw, following a 62 63 triumph over Liang in the 3rd-4th place play-off. Tauson, however, was still reeling from her semifinal loss to Osorio Serrano.
“I don’t feel better about that match but I came out here with a positive face and I just kept fighting,” said Tauson. “Third is fine. I am the youngest one here and have had some good results against some good players.”
Liang, meanwhile, was content with fourth place. She said: “I did my best to focus on court but even though the result was not what I wanted I still feel good. I have thoroughly enjoyed playing this tournament.”
Canada’s Leylah Fernandez also ended the week on a high note, defeating Luxembourg’s Eleonora Molinaro, who finished winless, 62 63 to claim her maiden victory of the tournament and finish fifth.
“I didn’t play my best this week. I wasn’t expecting the courts to play so fast – that was a big surprise and hard for me to adjust – but today I played better and I felt I performed at 50 per cent of my potential,” said Fernandez, who played an exhibition match with two-time Grand Slam winner Li Na on Saturday.
“It was an honour for me to play with Li Na. When I was younger she was my idol. I would watch her matches and I was very impressed by her game. It was fun to play with her and today I was playing better so it might have helped.”
Molinaro was unable to bring the curtain down on her ITF Junior Masters debut in style, but took solace in flying the flag for Luxembourg. She said: “It is the first time that a Luxembourg tennis player has featured here and I am really proud to be the first.”
The 18-year-old has often been spotted around the hotel and players’ lounge with a book in hand. Molinaro revealed she has been leafing through Darklaw by Teresa Wymore to ensure she is “not on the phone all the time”. She added: “This wasn’t the best way to end, but I now know what I need to improve on after this week.”