Tennis : Budding Star Naito Eyes Junior Grand Slam Title

Tennis : Budding star Naito eyes Junior Grand Slam titleA new star with a promising future is emerging in the world of women’s tennis.
Fourteen-year-old Yuki Naito clinched the runner-up spot in girls’ singles at the World Super Junior Tennis Championships, an 18-and-under tournament also known as the Osaka Mayor’s Cup, held in October in Osaka.

Naito fell behind her 11th-seeded Turkish opponent at the beginning of her semifinal match, but kept her cool against her rival’s strong forehand and battled back by varying the tempo and speed of her shots. She ultimately won the match in straight sets.

Naito is currently a third-year student at Nagaoka Middle School, which is attached to Niigata University’s Education Faculty. Inspired by her mother, a regular attendee at a tennis school, Naito first picked up a racket during her second grade of primary school.

Over the course of about a year, Naito took part in a tennis camp held by coach Toru Yonezawa, 57, who instructed Kei Nishikori during his junior years. She then joined the junior tennis tour as a member of Yonezawa’s team, winning a tournament in Saipan in May this year.

Naito also demonstrated her abilities in the under-14 girls’ singles category at the All-Japan junior tennis tournament in August, making it as far as the semifinals.

Naito, who is 1.62 meters tall, has flexible wrists and can produce topspin on the ball to land shots just on the baseline.

“She excels at using the whole court,” said Yonezawa. “And of all the players I’ve coached, she’s second only to Kei [Nishikori] in her ability to relax and get her whole body weight behind the ball for smashes.”

With seemingly endless energy to run around the court, Naito’s defensive talents are also a valuable weapon.

In the final of the Osaka tournament, Naito lost in straight sets to Mai Hontama, her senior by one year.

“I was nervous and lost my head,” she said. “I’d like to be champion at the Junior Grand Slam tournaments. However, that’ll be quite a challenge, so at first I have to focus on making it through the first round.”

Many in the tennis world have great expectations for the future growth of this young star.