Broady leaves junior high behind to join the school of hard knocks

Briton takes first step on to senior circuit hoping transition from boys' tennis is more Stefan Edberg than Brian Dunn
  • @PaulN54

It was fun while it lasted, but now comes the hard bit. Liam Broady bade farewell to junior tennis with his narrow defeat by Canada's Filip Peliwo in the US Open boys' final here on Sunday night. After a week playing at the world's best-attended annual sporting event, the 18-year-old Briton heads for the bullring of the Spanish Futures circuit, where there can be as many players as spectators but the competition can be as ferocious as anywhere.

Broady's results here, along with those of Kyle Edmund, who won the boys' doubles title, continued a remarkable run of success by British players in the junior Grand Slam events. Oliver Golding won the boys' title here 12 months ago – the first British winner of the title since Andy Murray in 2004 – while Broady was runner-up at Wimbledon last year. Laura Robson won the Wimbledon girls' title four years ago and Heather Watson was US Open girls' champion in 2010.

While Robson and Watson have made a successful transition into the senior game, the process is usually harder for men. The days of Boris Becker winning Wimbledon at 17 are long gone. Most men do not reach their peak now until their late twenties and the only teenager currently in the world's top 100 is 19-year-old Bernard Tomic.

The temptation can be to push successful juniors too quickly. Donald Young was an outstanding junior and was given a succession of wild cards into senior events, only to suffer a string of heavy defeats. Today, aged 23, he is world No 81.

For most men, the route to the top is via the Futures and Challenger circuits, which are populated by the up-and-coming and by the never-quite-made-it, who can still provide the toughest of tests for young players finding their way.

Building your ranking can be arduous: winning a Futures tournament earns just 18 ranking points, while winning just one match at a Grand Slam event earns 45.

The merit of success in the Grand Slam junior events is debatable. Andy Roddick, David Nalbandian, Stefan Edberg and Pat Cash are former US Open junior champions, but so are Brian Dunn (1992), Daniel Elsner (1996) and Dusan Lojda (2006). Britain's James Baily won the Australian Open boys' event in 1993 but very quickly gave up the sport. Spanish players – who currently fill eight of the places in the top 50 in the men's world rankings – rarely compete in the Grand Slam junior events.

Tim Henman, who had little success as a junior and did not break into the senior top 100 until he was 21, believes that talk of the transition between juniors and seniors is misleading. "You have to make sure that it's stepping stones all the way," he said. "In the past we've obviously had players who haven't had a game that is able to move on, so they say that transition hasn't been made, but everybody's journey is different."

He added: "It's so important that these kids are developing a game that's going to take them into the top 100 or top 50 and they're not going to do that if they're deficient in certain areas and they're not physically strong and fast. It's great that they can go and get the experience of playing in the US Open juniors, but it means so little really."

While Broady, at this stage of his development, does not appear to have the weapons of a big-hitter like Golding, he has a good all-round game and appreciates the need to keep working.

"Obviously, my serve could use some more work because I only changed the technique a month or so ago," he said. "I've changed the technique on my forehand as well, so it's going to be volume, just trying to hit as many balls as I can.

"A couple of months back I lost in the last 16 of the French Open, when I'd already put in five or six months of the hardest work I've ever put into my tennis, and physically off the court as well. It's tough, mentally, because you're putting in so much hard work and your game's not there yet.

"I've never really struggled with my game not being there and I went through a really rough patch – I don't really know what it was – when I was just not playing well. It was the first time it's ever happened. I think your hard work has to go up before your game follows."

Junior jump: Two who made it, two flops

Stefan Edberg: The only person to achieve the boys' "junior Grand Slam", by winning all four majors at that level, the Swede went on to win three of the four as a senior in the late Eighties/early Nineties, missing out only on the French Open.

John Newcombe: No one has equalled the Australian's haul of five boys' Grand Slam titles, while compatriot Roy Emerson is the only man to have collected more senior Grand Slam titles (including singles, doubles and mixed doubles) than Newcombe's 27.

Donald Young: The second youngest winner of a boys' Grand Slam title, in Australia 2005, the former junior world No 1 has climbed no higher than world No 38 and earlier this year suffered the ignominy of a 17-match losing streak.

Daniel Elsner: Three successive junior Grand Slam titles – the 1996 US Open followed by successes in Australia and France – and yet the German failed to advance past the second round in any of the senior majors before retiring four years ago.