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Tennis Women – Nigerian American Rising as 2019 Whitney Osuigwe shifts focus to WTA ranks ! www.supersport.com.ng

2019 Scouting Report: Whitney Osuigwe shifts focus to WTA ranks

Whitney Osuigwe, Miami 2018 (©Jimmie48/WTA)

Sixteen-year-old American Whitney Osuigwe is ready to move from a championship junior career into the professional ranks in 2019, but before she starts, she sat down for an exclusive chat with wtatennis.com.

She was on top of junior tennis less than 18 months ago, and now, 16-year-old American Whitney Osuigwe is ready to tackle the WTA.

In November, the former junior French Open champion and World No.1 clinched the USTA’s reciprocal wildcard for the first Grand Slam of the year, thanks to her performance over the final weeks of 2018.

Before she makes her debut at Melbourne Park, the rising American had an exclusive chat with wtatennis.com — read on to learn some fast facts about the youngest competitor in the Australian Open women’s draw.

Whitney Osuigwe, ITF World Champion 2018 (Getty)
Osuigwe was named ITF Junior World Champion for her 2017 season last spring. (Getty)

1. She built her tennis from the ground up.

A well-rounded athlete in her childhood, Osuigwe kept busy growing up by playing basketball and baseball in addition to tennis, and was also a ballet dancer.

It didn’t take long, however, for the little yellow ball to steal her heart.

“I started playing only tennis by the age of 7 because I fell in love with sport,” she said. “I liked being on the court all by myself and having to figure out everything in my own.”

The American had family ties to her current athletic pursuit from the very start, as her father and coach Desmond, a native of Nigeria, was a touring professional on the ATP Tour, and started teaching tennis at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. in 1997.

His daughter’s diverse athletic pursuits nonetheless shine through on the tennis court, as the teenager relies on quick feet and hands with a counterpunching style.

Of her tennis, Osuigwe assessed: “I think my biggest strengths in court are my movement and forehand. My favorite surface is red clay. I love being able to slide in it and it’s a slow surface – so I can get more balls back, as well as have more time to set up and hit my ball.”

2. In the junior ranks, she was an immediate force…

Named the ITF Junior World Champion at last year’s French Open, Osuigwe posted a monster season in the junior ranks in 2017.

In addition to becoming the first American junior in 28 years to win the girls’ singles title at Roland Garros, she claimed six titles in total – which also included the prestigious Eddie Herr and Orange Bowl titles to end the year.

“It’s hard to put in words what exactly it means to have finished No.1 this year and become Junior World Champion,” she said when she was honored.

This is very surprising and I could not be any happier. But I’d also like to think this is the result of the all hard work my team and I have gone through in the last year. I’m excited for what’s to come, and I hope we can keep up with the good results.”

Winner of the USTA’s girls’ 18-and-under nationals last August, the 16-year-old was rewarded with a spot in a women’s Grand Slam draw for the first time at the US Open, falling to Camila Giorgi in the first round as a wildcard, 6-4, 6-1.

Nonetheless, Osuigwe racked up wins in the fall against opponents both older and with vastly more experience, and she posted a 12-4 professional singles record following her Grand Slam main draw debut to end the season.

3. …and in the pro ranks, she’s been a quick study.

Osuigwe’s year-end run included her first career title at the ITF $80,000 event in Tyler, Texas, and a quarterfinal appearance at the WTA 125K event in Houston, where she learned she clinched the USTA’s Australian Open wildcard.

In that time, the right-hander earned notable victories against former World No.7 Belinda Bencic, former Top 20 and Top 25 compatriots Varvara Lepchenko and Christina McHale, and former Top 100 players Kurumi Nara and Naomi Broady.

“I learned a lot [from the US Open],” Osuigwe revealed. “That was my first main draw of a Grand Slam so it was a little overwhelming, but now I know what to expect and I feel a lot more comfortable.

“When I learned I got the wildcard [for Melbourne], I was very excited and couldn’t wait to come to Australia for the first time.”

To begin 2019, the American kicked off her year with another taste of tennis at the highest level, as she served as an alternate in the season-opening Hopman Cup in Perth.

The teenager stepped in for two-time Grand Slam champion Garbiñe Muguruza in Spain’s mixed doubles match against France, and partnered former French Open finalist David Ferrer.

Whitney Osuigwe and David Ferrer, Hopman Cup 2019 (Getty)
Osuigwe and Ferrer on the court together in Hopman Cup. (Getty)

4. She’s ready to take her place the United States’ generation next…

After a dominant showing in 2017 and finishing on top of the world, Osuigwe dove head-first into the professional ranks last season, and competed in just two junior tournaments.

In what she confirmed was her last junior match, Osuigwe fell in the first round of the girls’ singles at Wimbledon to eventual champion Iga Swiatek – who is coincidentally also making her Australian Open debut after qualifying for the women’s draw.

 

“Playing juniors was very fun, and everything kind of happened really fast,” Osuigwe reflected.

“I went to the French Open [in 2017] looking forward to just playing at what is one of my favorite Grand Slams. When I won, I couldn’t believe it. I was so happy. I had a very good junior career and I think that has helped me start to pave my path into the pro level.”

Currently ranked World No.198, Osuigwe is the youngest of 28 Americans – which includes four teenagers – in the Top 200.

“When I see them doing well, I’m always happy for them. We definitely push each other, because when one does well, we always know that we can do the same. Seeing their success on the pro tour has showed me that I can do it, too.”  Whitney Osuigwe on the success of the American ‘next-gen.’

Osuigwe’s teenaged peers in the WTA rankings include 2017 US Open girls’ champion and current World No.87 Amanda Anisimova, who already booked her place in the second round in Melbourne with a first-round win over Monica Niculescu on Monday; and 18-year-old Claire Liu, whom Osuigwe defeated to win her French Open girls’ title.

5. …and she has them all in her corner.

With another wildcard, Osuigwe made her WTA main draw debut at last year’s Miami Open, where she lost to Liu in the opening round.

“I have good relationships with a lot of the other up-and-coming Americans. When I see them doing well, I’m always happy for them,” she said.

“We definitely push each other, because when one does well, we always know that we can do the same. Seeing their success on the pro tour has showed me that I can do it, too.

“With that being said, everyone has their own success at different time times in their careers, so for now I’m just working hard and focusing on developing my game.”

The 16-year-old thus officially begins the next phase of her career in Tuesday’s second match on Court 15 at Melbourne Park against another rising teenager from North America: Canada’s Bianca Andreescu.

Eighteen-year-old Andreescu is coming off a sizzling start to 2019 herself, as she upset both Caroline Wozniacki and Venus Williams to reach her maiden tour final at the ASB Classic in Auckland.

Whatever the result of her second career Grand Slam match, however, Osuigwe is looking to use her experience in Australia as a building block for the rest of her year.

“My goals are to just keep developing my game – and I want to be Top 100 at the end of year,” she said.

“This is the level everyone wants to be at, so I’m just going to keep learning and see how far I can go.”

Like the William sisters, Whitney Osuigwe is soaring in world of tennis. Also like the William sisters, she is American on the court but in reality, the origin of the present number one junior champion in tennis in the United States of America i s Nigerian. Her father who a l s o serves as her coach, again like the William s i s t e r s , Desmond Osuigwe, is a native of Lagos State and a former ATP player from the 1990s. During his childhood, he competed in several ITF tournaments and faced many other challenges, including survival. As a teenager, tennis was a way for Desmond to get out of violence. With hard work and dedication, Desmond made his way to the United States to attend Jackson State University, before turning professional. In 1997, he came to IMG Academy as a tennis coach, where he still works. Desmond says he knew his daughter had the potential to play professionally when she started beating her elder brother at a tender age. This made him enroll her full-time at IMG Academy, a tennis training college in Florida. Young and determined, Osuigwe started putting in eight hours of training and two hours in the gym daily. It is hard enough for anyone to work with their father at anything and working with a Nigerian father is even more demanding. That is what Osuigwe had to endure and that is what made her better and better at every turn of her career. Her first at the Easter Bowl, a popular tournament for junior players in the United States.

Although she was only 13 at the start of 2016, Osuigwe played junior tournaments in the highest division where she competed against players as old as 18. She turned professional last year and from standing at number 111 in the ITF junior girls’ rankings, s h e catapulted straight to number two after winning t h e F r e n c h Open. Within days, she was ranked number one after garnering the highest points in the rankings that was released. Since she rose to number one in the j u n i o r w o r l d rankings, she has held on to the top spot. She became the third United States girl and fourth American junior in the last six years to finish as the world’s year-end number one. The French Open triumph did not come easy for Osuigwe, the ninth-youngest champion in the tournament’s history and the first American to win the event since Jennifer Capriati in 1989. She endured three three-setters on her way to the June 10 final against fellow American Claire Liu, who is 17 years old and had crushed Osuigwe 6-1, 6-1 in a tournament just two months earlier. After splitting the first two sets of the rematch, with Liu winning the second in a tiebreaker, Osuigwe ran out to a 5-1 lead in the final set before finishing off a 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-3 victory. A right handed (double handed backhand) player, Osuigwe’s favourite surface is clay. The 5-foot-6 says initially, playing tennis was about having fun.

But these days, it’s all about winning tournaments. Osuigwe led the United States Junior Fed Cup team to its fourth Junior Fed Cup title in Budapest, Hungary, last September. It was the third championship for the American girls in the last six years; they also won titles in 2008, 2012 and 2014. Both of her siblings, her brother DeAndre, and her sister Victoria, share the same dream of becoming great in the world of sports. Her brother plays basketball and Victoria is following in the line of tennis with the dream of becoming world number one someday. She kicked off 2018 by reaching her first pro singles final at t h e $25,000 USTA Pro Circuit event in Wesley Chapel, Florida the week of January 23 and advanced to the doubles semifinals at the $100,000 tournament in Midland, Michigan. On August 12, 2018, Osuigwe won the USTA girls 18s tennis championship which earned her a wild-card entry into the main draw of the US Open. From a 6-year-old learning tennis in boots and jeans, to now a professional player, Whitney has persevered and worked her way up to the top. She however has her eyes on the Grand Slams and is ready to kick off on that as soon as possible.

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