Victory was within sight.
Bradenton resident Whitney Osuigwe was serving for the championship and leading 30-15 when a string in her racket broke. Within minutes, the game, the break and the second set of the French Open girls singles final was lost Saturday morning.
On this side of the Atlantic Ocean, Margie Zesinger, the director of girls tennis at IMG Academy who was following the match on the French Open app while on vacation, took advantage of the break between the second and third set to send a text to another person who also was monitoring the match: “She’s still going to win this.”
And Osuigwe did.
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The 15-year-old stormed to a 5-1 lead in the decisive set and held off 17-year-old Claire Liu of Thousand Oaks, Calif., 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-3, to win her first Grand Slam junior title. She closed the match on her serve behind multiple forehand winners.
“Amazing,” Osuigwe texted Zesinger, who serves as one of the teen’s coaches, shortly after the match. “To know that all the hard work I put in showed. This was a goal of mine and it is accomplished. On to the next one!!!”
Osuigwe is the first American to win the French Open girls singles title since Jennifer Capriati in 1989 and the fifth overall, joining Ann Smith (1977), Kathy Horvath (1980) and Bonnie Gadusek (1981).
The French Open girls singles final between two Americans was the first since 1980 and second overall. The last time two American girls reached the final of the same junior Grand Slam was in 1992, when Lindsay Davenport beat Julie Steven in New York.
Osuigwe is the ninth-youngest girls singles champion at the French Open, at 15 years, 1 month and 24 days old — just over one month older than Justine Henin when she won the Roland Garros girls title in 1997.
“It was one of my goals, but I didn’t really have any expectations,” said Osuigwe when asked if she had expected to win a junior Grand Slam at such a young age. “I just kept working hard and knew the results would come.”
Osuigwe had lost to the more experieinced Liu, 6-1, 6-1, on the hardcourts at Indian Wells in April at the adidas Easter Bowl Championships.
“I mean, I beat her, like, fast at Easter Bowl, but that was on hard,” Liu said. “And I knew she would learn from that match. So I was expecting her to play well, and she did.”
So was Osuigwe’s father, Desmond, who also serves as her primary coach and has been a tennis coach at IMG Academy since 1997.
“(Whitney) knew it was going to be a battle,” said the elder Osuigwe, who did not make the trip to France. “She didn’t play her best tennis (in the first match against Liu). She knew the strategy today was to make less mistakes than Liu and be resilient.”
Osuigwe doesn’t hide the fact clay is her favorite surface, and it is the one on which she has enjoyed her greatest successes this year due, in part, to her court coverage, a big forehand and her patience, according to her father and Zesinger. The French Open is her third title this year, joining championships earned at the 37th Asuncion Bowl, in Lambare, Paraguay, and the 47th Banana Bowl, in Sao Simao Criciuma, Brazil. Both South American events were also on red clay.
Osuigwe debuted in the ITF junior rankings in 2015. She finished 2016 ranked No. 111 in the world and, entering the French Open, had risen to No. 5. With the French Open title, her ranking will rise again.
With only the USTA entourage in Paris with her, Osuigwe expected to have a quiet celebration of the biggest title of her career.
“I think actually me and Claire are going to go into the town and we’re going to go to dinner,” Osuigwe said.
Just two Americans teens celebrating in Paris.
This report contains material from the Associated Press