Like clockwork every December, the world’s top junior tennis players show up in South Florida with big groundstrokes and giant dreams. It’s been going on since 1947, when Eddie Herr founded the Orange Bowl Tournament at Flamingo Park in Miami Beach.
The 16-unders and 18-unders are at the Veltri Tennis Center in Plantation this week for the Orange Bowl International Tournament; and next week the 14s and 12s convene in Coral Gables and Key Biscayne for the Junior Orange Bowl Tournament.
Former winners include Roger Federer, Chris Evert, Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Jim Courier, Andy Roddick and Caroline Wozniacki, to name a few.
Whitney Osuigwe hopes to join that list this weekend. The 15-year-old Nigerian-American from Bradenton’s IMG Academy is the reigning French Open junior champion. She was the first American to win that event in 28 years, since Jennifer Capriati did it in 1989. Osuigwe is the world’s top-ranked junior and the top-seed in the Girls 18s this week.
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She reached the Orange Bowl semifinals last year, and is eager to go a step further and take home the crystal bowl of oranges this time around. She breezed through her third-round match on Thursday, beating Yasmine Mansouri of France 6-0, 6-2.
A day earlier, she defeated U.S. Open junior finalist Coco Gauff of Delray Beach 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 in the second round. Gauff, 13, is one of America’s most promising young players, but Osuigwe’s experience paid off.
“I’m playing with a lot of confidence,” Osuigwe said after her match. “After reaching the semifinals here last year, everything changed. I improved my serve. I started playing more aggressive. I hadn’t had as many matches when I got here last year. This time, it’s totally different.”
Osuigwe’s first breakthrough in junior tennis was in 2014, when she won the Junior Orange Bowl 12s title. A year later, she won the 14s Easter Bowl. Her success is hardly a surprise, considering her father, Donald, is a former pro player and has been coaching at the IMG Academy for two decades. She started hitting the ball around in preschool, while wearing a Cinderella dress. She dabbled in basketball, baseball and ballet, but tennis remained her true love. Her fairy tale continues.
Osuigwe has already turned pro, but because she is under 16, she is not allowed to play more than 10 matches per year.
In other matches Thursday, wild card Abigail Forbes of Raleigh, North Carolina, beat Hurricane Tyra Black of Boca Raton 6-0, 4-6, 6-4. And another American wild card, Chloe Beck of Georgia, beat Canadian Layne Sleeth 6-3, 4-6, 6-2.
The top-seeded American boy in the 18s was No. 3 Andrew Fenty, son of former Washington D.C., mayor Adrian Fenty, but he was eliminated on Wednesday.
Orange Bowl International Tennis Championship
▪ Who: World’s top 18s and 16s junior tennis players
▪ When: Through Sunday
▪ Where: Frank Veltri Tennis Center, Plantation Central Park
▪ Admission: Free