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Coco’s Got Company: Tennis Teens on the Come-up

By Giri Nathan

Teens! They’re at it again. By “it” I do not mean vaping on TikTok. I mean gunning for big titles, on both professional tennis tours. And last week they wound up either doing exactly that or getting pretty damn close. It wasn’t the usual suspects, either. For all the heaped-up anticipation, it wasn’t Felix Auger Aliassime, who, two months into 2020, has already appeared in and lost the fourth and fifth finals of his young career. He’ll get ’em eventually; he still has five more months before his teen credential is revoked anyway. And it wasn’t 15-year-old Coco Gauff, who hasn’t played a pro match since her fourth-round Australian Open run, due to age-based restrictions on the number of events she can play. (And who, in any case, already snagged her first WTA title in Linz last fall, which is wild.)

Instead, today we celebrate the magnificently named Thiago Seyboth Wild, a 19-year-old out of Brazil, who won it all in Santiago, and the 17-year-old Canadian qualifier Leylah Fernandez, who came within a set of taking the title in Acapulco. Neither player could have reasonably seen last week’s success coming. Seyboth Wild and Fernandez were ranked No. 182 and No. 190 on their respective tours going into the week; by the end of it they’d spiked to No. 113 and No. 126. Seyboth Wild had yet to win consecutive matches this year, taking three straight L’s to start his season. Fernandez, meanwhile, had only beaten one top 100 opponent in her brief career heading into this event—which was, curiously, world No. 5 Belinda Bencic in Fed Cup in early February. Maybe that upset should have been a sign.

Coco at Linz last October, claiming her first title well ahead of schedule

And now they both have their first pieces of hardware. Seyboth Wild came in as a wild card, lucked out a bit when surging world No. 18 Christian Garin withdrew from their quarterfinal with back pain after dropping the first set, then made good on that luck. In the final he beat world No. 38 Caspar Ruud, the buzzy 21-year-old out of Norway racking up big wins in his own right this season. With that three-set victory, Seyboth Wild became the first player born this millenium to claim an ATP title. He’s also the youngest player to win a title during the Golden Swing since Rafa—his favorite player, duh—did it back in 2005 at age 18. While the dirtballer came up on the South American clay and will likely do a lot more damage there, his big forehand and serve should translate nicely enough to hard courts, too.

Meanwhile in Acapulco, Fernandez was busy winning 12 straight sets from the qualifying rounds to the final against British vet Heather Watson. There the teenager fended off five championship points in the second set to win the tiebreak, and then four more in the third set, before her legs sort of abandoned her. Understandable—it’s a ton of tennis in one week for a teenager who until very recently had no wins against this tier of opponent. It apparently did not take a toll, because she’s back to winning this week. After claiming that runner-up trophy last weekend, Fernandez has maintained the momentum in Mexico: She dispatched a slumping Sloane Stephens in three sets this week in Monterrey. That’s her second top 50 win, too. Every time I look, it seems like Canada is hoarding all the little prodigies.

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