WEARY TENNIS champion Nicola Kuhn has played his last match as a junior after winning his first Grand Slam title in Paris on Saturday, writes DONNA GEE.
The Torrevieja teenager and his doubles partner Zsombor Piros were crowned junior champions at the French Open after a convincing 6-4 6-4 victory over US pair Danny Thomas and Vasil Kirkov.
However, exhausted Kuhn had earlier missed out on the coveted singles crown, losing 7-6 6-3 to lanky Australian Alexei Popyrin after coming through a near-impossible three-match playing schedule the previous day.
Blond battler Nico won all three – then became a victim of his own success after storming into both boys’ finals and dispatching world number one Miomir Kecmanovic in a nailbiting singles semi-final.
The build-up at Roland Garros reached its peak last Friday, when Kuhn inflicted a rare defeat on Kecmanovic, then teamed up with Hungarian Piros to plough through two tough doubles matches and set up a Saturday showdown with Thomas and Kirkov.
Austrian-born Kuhn, whose colourful background embraces a German father, Russian mother and residency in Spain since he was three months old, went into Saturday’s matches on the back of nine straight wins over the previous five days. But after effectively playing EIGHT sets of pressure tennis last Friday, something had to give.
The crunch came in his singles showdown on Saturday morning with the lanky Popyrin, whose route to the final had been eased by an early exit from the doubles and a relatively easy singles semi-final against Spain’s Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.
Ironically, Kuhn might well have won the singles crown had he accepted an offer from Piros to ease his playing burden by withdrawing the partnership from the doubles.
Nico had been urged by his family not to take on the enormous task of competing for both the singles and doubles titles. And as his schedule began to get out of hand, Piros – who had already been knocked out of the singles – offered to abandon his own progress by withdrawing the partnership from the doubles.
Kuhn, who was 17 in March, will be eligible to play at junior level until the end of 2019 but says he will no longer compete in 18-and-under tournaments after pulling out of next month’s junior Wimbledon in the wake of his Paris exertions.
He would have been among the top seeds for the junior singles title at Wimbledon but the lure of full-time professionalism and top-class opponents has not surprisingly won the day.
“No more junior tennis for me. I am done with it!” he joked, reflecting on my observation that the under-18 circuit is all work and no pay.
Kuhn and his Torrevieja-based back-up team, headed by coach Pedro Caprotta, will now focus all their attention on the men’s circuit and maximising Nico’s assault on the ATP rankings.
He is currently listed 521 in the world behind No.1 Andy Murray and has targeted a place in the top 200 by the end of the year, which could well make him the highest ranked 17-year-old on the planet.