Although the WTA and ATP seasons have come to a close, the juniors still have two major competitions ahead of them. Some of the world's best juniors will be on display at the Eddie Herr International Junior Championships and then the Metropolia Orange Bowl International Championship the following week. This week's Eddie Herr tournament is being played on green clay and is held at Nick Bollettieri's IMG Academy. It is one of the strongest non-slam junior tournaments of the year. This preview covers the Under-18 field, a Grade 1 ITF-sanctioned junior tournament, but there will be other age groups in action as well. The Eddie Herr website has information covering all the draws and schedules for all age groups.
Norway's Casper Ruud and Canadian phenom Felix Auger-Aliassime headline the boy's draw
With only one top ten junior in the boy's draw, it appears lacking at first glance. Without the American junior stars who have defined the 2015 season, a new generation of juniors will get their moment in the sun this week. Leading the Eddie Herr draw is Norway's Casper Ruud whose father Christian was a top 50 player in the 1990s. The 16-year-old has won four junior titles this year, including the Grade A Osaka Mayor's Cup. That victory saw Ruud enter the top ten junior rankings. With great performances at Eddie Herr and the Orange Bowl, Ruud could start 2016 as the world's number one ranked junior due to all of those above him being removed from the rankings due to their age. Despite constant success in junior tournaments, the Norwegian has yet to achieve a big junior slam result with the round of 16 being his best result at both Roland Garros and the U.S.. Open. Ruud has some tough opponents in his quarter with recent Abierto Juvenil Mexicano Champion Genaro Alberto Olivieri of Argentina and young American talents Sam Riffice and Gianni Ross possibly in his way.
Without any of the established junior stars playing, a lot of attention will be given to 15-year-old Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime whose extremely impressive senior results have already led to some hype forming around the youngster from Montreal. Already ranked inside the top 800 on the ATP Tour, Auger-Aliassime has qualified into the main draw of two ATP Challenger level tournaments in 2015. He reached the quarterfinals of the Granby Challenger in July as his best result. The Canadian is fast, technically sound and playing with maturity beyond his years with many already hyping the Canadian as a future ATP star. Auger-Aliassime is only ranked 24th currently in the juniors ranks, so a deep run at Eddie Herr could see the 7th seed approach the top ten. He will open with a tough match against American Patrick Kypson and could face the highest ranked American in the draw, Nathan Ponwith, in the third round.
Other players to watch in the boy's draw include second seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece who reached the quarterfinals at the Wimbledon juniors tournament and semifinals of the European Junior Championships. His quarter is rather open with Abierto Juvenil runner-up Youssef Hossam of Egypt, Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia and American Brandon Holt, the son of WTA legend Tracy Austin, as possible opponents. The second quarter of the draw is open as well with 16-year-old Alex De Minaur of Australia and hard-hitting Alberto Lim of the Philippines as the quarter's top players. Big-serving 12th seed Ulises Blanch of the USA could also come through this section which lacks established big tournament performers. Without the likes of big American junior names like Taylor Fritz, Stefan Kozlov, Michael Mmoh, Francis Tiafoe and Tommy Paul in the field, the USTA will be hoping for a new American name to step-up and compete for one of the biggest junior titles.
Dalma Galfi leads girl's draw in bid to claim year-end number one ranking
While the boy's draw lacks many big name juniors, the girl's draw will feature six of the top ten as the tight points race means several players have a shot to end the year as the top ranked junior. That designation leads to that player being crowned the ITF Junior World Champion. Leading the draw is Hungarian Dalma Galfi who has achieved great success in both juniors and ITF tournaments. Currently ranked number two in juniors just behind the absent Marketa Vondrousova, the big serving and hard hitting Hungarian is looking to reclaim the top spot.
Galfi is full of confidence having recently won the U.S. Open junior girls title and a $50,000 pro challenger tournament in Australia which saw her WTA ranking briefly enter the top 300. Galfi will be ending her junior career following these two tournaments and would like to go out with a bang as she looks for a fast transition onto the WTA Tour. Her road to the title isn't easy as her quarter is loaded with extremely tough opponents including young Americans Caty McNally, Ingrid Neel, Claire Liu and Kayla Day. She could face McNally in the second round. McNally should give Galfi spirited competition and could help wear down the temperamental Hungarian early in the tournament.
Last year's Orange Bowl Champion and current U.S. Open juniors runner-up Sofia Kenin of the United States anchors the bottom half of the draw. Kenin also faces a very tough road if she wants to reach the final rounds. Kenin could play 14-year-old Olga Danilovic of Serbia in the second round. Danilovic is one of the world's best Under-14 players and the daughter of former NBA player Predrag Danilovic. If Kenin reaches the quarterfinals, she might be the underdog in a matchup against Slovenian Tamara Zidansek. Zldansek currently sits at 294 in the WTA rankings with consistent clay court results in ITF tournaments throughout the year. Zidansek's big topspin forehand and clay court experience might make her the second favorite for the title behind Galfi. A quarterfinal against Kenin would be a must watch match.
Tereza Mihalikova of Slovakia, the Australian Open junior champion, is the third seed and hoping for a crack at ending the year as the top junior. Mihalikova has had an up and down year. She struggled in many big tournaments and could face tough challenges in her quarter against Canadian Bianca Vanessa Andreescu, Americans Alexandra Sanford and Michaela Gordon or Abierto Juvenil girls champion Amanda Anisimova. The quarter led by Charlotte Robillard-Millette of Canada is perhaps the weakest and most open after sixth seeded Sofya Zhuk withdrew. The quarter lacks proven competitors, but the lefty Canadian could face tough matches against Americans Kylie McKenzie and Sofia Sewing, Algeria's Ines Ibbou and India's Pranjala Yadlapalli.
Monday's possible upsets
Matches to watch on Monday include 13 year-old American Whitney Osuigwe taking on 14th seed Jaqueline Adina Cristian. The American won last year's Junior Orange Bowl Under-12 girls championship. Despite her young age, Osuigwe is already showing she can compete with the top Under-18 players in the world. An upset against the inconsistent Romanian is unlikely, but possible. Another major young talent Amanda Anisimova will take on Georgia Andreea Craciun, a Romanian who is under ranked as she concentrates more on the pro tour rather than juniors. This match should be one of the highest quality matches of round one. The highlight of Monday's boys matches is Felix Auger-Aliassime taking on Patrick Kypson, a member of the American Junior Davis Cup team. Kypson has competed well in big junior tournaments, but has yet to have a major breakthrough.