Stop press: Briton in singles final
Sunday 04 July 2004
"British player through to final in Wimbledon singles!" is the headline Tim Henman would have wanted to wake up to today. Both he and the nation know differently now, but the headline still applies - to 18-year-old Miles Kasiri.
Yesterday afternoon he battled on in his resumed game against the lanky, ear-studded 17-year-old American Scoville Jenkins. Having taken the first set on a tie-break on Friday evening on Court 14, Kasiri won the second set by the same means on Court 13, to take him into the final this afternoon, 7-6 (7-5) 7-6 (7-3).
On a day when another teenager made world headlines nearby, Kasiri's achievement may pass the public by a little, but it's worth noting that if he wins today he will become the first British winner since Stanley Matthews Jnr in 1962.
You should guess from the ages that we are talking junior men's championship here, still archaically called the Boys' Singles in lawn tennis circles. Kasiri, born in Margate, owes his surname to his Iranian father, Firuz, while his English mother, Gayle, a sports scientist, helped him take up tennis at the age of three.
Kasiri's development is somewhat unorthodox; having begun within the Lawn Tennis Association's junior training schemes, he skipped off to Florida to spend four years at Nick Bollettieri's tennis academy, funded partly by his parents, partly by the LTA. It will look like money well spent after yesterday's events.
Kasiri's path echoes that of another Bollettieri graduate, Andre Agassi, whose Iranian father sent him to Florida after he had run out of practice space on the family's Las Vegas parking lot. You suspect that Kasiri wouldn't want invidious comparisons just yet, but in reaching the final, from a draw of 64 players, he at least went further than the other 12 British entries.
Watching Kasiri's first set, you couldn't help but be impressed, not just by his deter-mination in fairly wretched conditions but also by his un-British resilience. Tacked on to the baseline like most Bollettieri graduates, Kasiri wielded a powerful double-fisted backhand of great consistency, both in speed and length. But he was also able to ambush Jenkins with an occasional volley or drop shot.
But on two occasions in the tense set - during a sequence of four successive service breaks - he thrashed a spare ball into the back netting, and then thwacked another down the length of the court after losing a rally.
Mark Cox, former British No 1, and long involved in youth development, remembers "playing doubles with Miles when he was a kid, in Maidstone". Watching him now, Cox admires Kasiri's style but cautions that "the big issue is how he manages himself on court".
David Felgate, the LTA's director of performance, was on hand to witness the mini-tantrums, and while he sees these "as signs of how much Miles wants to win", he also recognises that the toys should stay in the pram. "Miles just needs to stop himself boiling over. I always say to the juniors that winning or losing at this level is not a huge concern, what counts is an improved level of performance."
Nevertheless, winning the Wimbledon junior title now would be a significant boost for Kasiri, or indeed for his highly touted French rival, Gael Monfils. They surely can't help noticing the names on the roll of honour - Bjorn Borg in 1972, Ivan Lendl in '78, Pat Cash in '82, Stefan Edberg in '83 and a certain R Federer in 1998. And you can't stop young men dreaming, especially when, as on Friday evening, the roars from the delayed men's semi-finals rippled out over their courts.
Monfils, whose big serving and crisp baseline shots won him junior titles this year at the Australian and French Opens, looks like a teen ready to become a man. He managed to keep his sang-froid on Friday despite being watched by a bellowing British tennis enthusiast in a Union Jack cloak and a straw boater with a plastic toaster on top.
There was also a five-hour rain delay between winning his first set and completing the second against his compatriot Jeremy Chardy. Monfils signed off with a 127mph ace. "Ca va?" he said afterwards.
Dominique Poey, of the French Tennis Federation, smiles broadly when you suggest that Monfils and Chardy are part of a good vintage. "We have two training centres, one near Poitiers, one near Nice, and we take these boys from 14 years of age, school them in both tennis and academic subjects, work on their fitness and then see what level they reach. If you get two progressing out of a group of 20 you feel blessed." David Felgate, Miles Kasiri and the man with the toaster on his hat may yet agree later today.
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