BRADENTON -- A year ago, Claire Liu could have torn through the 14U bracket at the Eddie Herr International Junior Championships in Bradenton. Less than a year later, she would nearly qualify for the main draw of the US Open and was good enough to be one of the final 16 players standing in the Herr�s 18U main draw.
This year is Liu�s second time at IMG Academy for the Eddie Herr and once again she is into the third round of the 64-player main draw after upsetting No. 12 Ingrid Neel, an IMG athlete, 2-0 (6-2, 7-6), on Wednesday in the round of 32.
"I played her before, so I knew how she played," Liu said. "I just tried to play my game and work to her weaknesses."
To reach the quarterfinals for the first time, the 15-year-old Liu will need another upset against No. 9 Kayla Day, another American, at approximately 9 a.m. Thursday. Once again, though, she's learning how good she can be.
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Liu began playing tennis when she was 5 and it was just one of several sports she picked up as a naturally athletic child in Thousand Oaks, Calif. By the time she was 9 or 10, she realized how much more time she was putting into her tennis. It was simply the sport she was most interested in and before she started middle school, she had committed herself to the court.
Her rise in the sport has been steady. In her seven years of learning at USTA Training Center in Carson, Calif., coach Adam Peterson has never seen one massive leap from Liu, but rather meticulous progression.
"Her results are slow and steady, which I think, for her, suits her personality," Peterson said. "It's still all about development and just getting better.�
If there was one turning point, Liu hasn�t had the chance to build on it yet. She got into the US Open qualifying bracket as a wild card and sprung a pair of upsets on Veronica Cepede Royg and No. 9-seed Jana Cepelova. In the final round, she stumbled against No. 26-seed Alexandra Panova, a 26-year-old Russian who has played in all four Grand Slam tournaments.
When all was said and done, Liu was just one win short of crashing the main draw as a 15-year-old underdog.
"She got to beat some high-level players at the US Open, which maybe some coaches thought she was always capable of and she didn't (think so)," Peterson said. �Sometimes the players don't see it because they don't see the level they're at."
On Sept. 14, Liu jumped to No. 536 in the world rankings. It's the highest she's been and if it weren't for an injury she suffered shortly after, she may still be there.
Less than a month after trying to qualify for the US Open, Liu went to Spain for the Junior Fed Cup. The American won four of her five matches, including three wins in straight sets. Not long after, she suffered a hairline fracture in her wrist. She hasn't played since.
"It's always tricky having a month to two months off from competition. You always feel like you're losing ground," Peterson said. "I'm happy for her. She's working hard."
When Liu looks back at her success during US Open qualifying, she considers it an injection of confidence. Even with a win in a professional tournament -- a singles title at the Orlando 10K, where she beat Ascender Fanny Stollar in the final -- her time in New York for the US Open helped her understand her ability and potential.
On Thursday, she'll have a chance to take another step when she plays for a spot in the quarterfinals for singles and the semifinals in doubles. Paired with No. 6 Bianca Vanessa Andreescu, Liu beat Americans Hurricane Tyra Black and Caty McNally, 2-0 (7-6, 6-0), on Wednesday. They'll play No. 4 Day and Alexandra Sanford in the quarterfinals at approximately 1 p.m. on Thursday, too.
"Every girl wants to be here and every girl wants to win," Liu said. "I can hang with the top players."