Having slipped to defeat in qualifying at J4 Oslo as recently as February, it is something of a meteoric rise that 14-year-old Victoria Jimenez Kasintseva of Andorra claimed by far the biggest victory of her career by winning the JA Merida title over the weekend. Unseeded, Jimenez Kasintseva dispatched all before her, while on three occasions she showed the strength of character to navigate a decisive third set, including against fourth seed and Junior Fed Cup by BNP Paribas champion Robin Montgomery of the USA in round two.
Even prior to her Mexican triumph, it had been a season of considerable progress for Jimenez Kasintseva, who sealed singles titles at J3 Barcelona, J3 El Prat de Llobregat and J3 Saint Cyprien following earlier triumphs at J4 Limelette and J5 Tarragona, the latter after successfully negotiating qualifying. Despite this, however, victory in Grade A competition represents a hugely significant step in the career of a player who was yet to win a main draw singles match at Grade 1 level.
Entering the season with a year-end ranking of No. 2735 from the previous season, Jimenez Kasintseva is now ranked No. 26 in the ITF World Tennis Tour Junior Rankings presented by IMG Academy.
Thiago Agustin Tirante (ARG)
Argentina’s Thiago Agustin Tirante has stormed up the ITF World Tennis Tour Junior Rankings presented by IMG Academy during the past 12 months and now finds himself in the No. 4 spot, having risen 130 places since the end of 2018. The 18-year-old was the standout performer at JA Merida this weekend and lifted silverware in both singles and doubles, in the process taking his tally of trophies for the campaign to five – all of which have come on clay.
Success in Merida was his second Grade A singles crown of the year following his triumph at Porto Alegre in February where he dispatched heavyweight American duo Toby Kodat and Martin Damm in the semis and final respectively. Following a further victory at JB1 Sao Paulo in March, Tirante came agonisingly close to further Grade A joy in Milan, only to lose in the final of the singles and doubles.
The La Plata-born teenager was unbowed and sealed his maiden Junior Grand Slam title a fortnight later as he partnered Brazil’s Matheus Pucinelli de Almeida to victory in the boys’ doubles at Roland Garros. Tirante’s progress during 2019 was reflected by his qualification for the ITF Junior Finals in October, where he finished sixth.
Maria Bondarenko (RUS)
A year which began with a first-round defeat at the Australian Open after coming through qualifying has blossomed into a five-trophy season (and counting) for Russia’s Maria Bondarenko. The 16-year-old claimed the biggest title of her career in November with victory at J1 Cancun, dropping just one set en route to the singles title before winning the doubles crown with Latvia’s Darja Semenistaja, and headed into JA Merida with a 41-6 singles win-loss record.
Bondarenko has had a sterling second half to the season, with her twin triumph in Mexico coming on the heels of her three J2 title wins – Pancevo in August and Novi Sad in September, where again she also claimed the doubles titles on Serbian clay; and on carpet in Nagoya in October, having won the doubles title at JA Osaka the previous week.
The results have propelled her into the ITF Word Tennis Tour Junior Rankings presented by IMG Academy top 20 for the first time at No.14 – high enough for a seeding at Melbourne Park in 2020 if she can stay there until January.
Eliakim Coulibaly (CIV)
Having finished 2018 just inside the world’s top 200 juniors at No.196, Ivorian left-hander Eliakim Coulibaly looks set for a top-50 finish in 2019 after rising 24 spots to No.38 following his run to the J1 Cancun final, where fell to Austria’s Lukas Neumayer in November, before reaching the quarter-finals at JA Merida.
It is the latest landmark in a banner season for 17-year-old Coulibaly, who is based at the ITF/CAT High Performance Tennis Centre Morocco and was crowned African junior champion in March at the Royal Tennis Club of Marrakech, having opened the year with victory at J2 Tunis in January.
A member of the Grand Slam Development Fund touring team that travelled to Europe in May, he began competing in Grade A tournaments in 2019, making his Grand Slam debuts in qualifying at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon and collecting a doubles title with South Africa’s Pierre Malan at JA Cape Town in September on his preferred hard courts.