Alena Kovackova (CZE) and Nikita Bilozertsev (UKR) have scored big wins at this year’s first major Junior Tour event, the Christmas Cup in Khimki, Russia. .
Top seed Kovackova (pictured, left) won the girls’ tournament, though she faced some stiff challenges along the way. A bronze medallist at the Junior Masters in Monte-Carlo in October, the European #2 was in determined mood throughout the week. Having overcome Russians Daria Kuznetsova and Alexandra Malova in tight three-set matches, she played a confident final, casting aside another local player, seventh seed Alisa Oktiabreva (pictured, right), with a clinical 6-2 6-1 win.
The win marks Kovackova’s second Super Category victory (adding to her win in Maia in 2021) and ninth TEJT title overall, including one 16 & Under event. She returns to the 16 & Under circuit for her next event, at home in Milovice (CZE) next week.
While Kovackova was the pre-tournament favourite on paper, boys’ champion Bilozertsev had to overcome a series of higher-ranked players on his road to victory, including a win over seventh seed Yannick Theodor Alexandrescou (ROU) in the quarters. This was followed by an impressive comeback against European #1 Flynn Thomas (SUI) in the semi-finals. Thomas ripped through the first set 6-0 but ultimately came undone 5-7 in the decider against the tenacious Ukrainian. Bilozertsev then scored a third successive upset in the final, this time beating second seeded Bulgarian Ivan Ivanov 6-4 7-5.
One of the feel-good stories to come out of this tournament was the progress of recent 12 & Under Festival champions Veronika Sekerkova and Savva Rybkin. In the girls’ draw, the talented Czech made a run to the quarters, scoring straight-set wins over second seed Polina Kuharenko (BLR) and Katriin Reinvald (EST) before falling to Oktiabreva.
2021 Boys’ 12 & Under standout Rybkin (RUS) also enjoyed success here on his home turf. In addition to his run to the doubles final, he defeated sixth seeded New Zealander Jamie Mackenzie, last year’s Junior Tour Overseas Player of the Year, in the round of 16 before falling to Thomas in the quarterfinals.
Despite her early loss to Sekerkova, there was glory for Kuharenko in the girls’ doubles. She teamed up with fellow Belorussian Yuliya Perapekhina for a 6-4 7-5 win in the final against Russians Daria Koreshkova & Marta Mariia Makarova. The boys' doubles final was an all-Russian affair. Fedor Kurilenkov & Egor Shcherbakov were too strong for Rybkin & Marat Salbiev and took the match and the title with a 6-2 7-6(3) win.
2022 on the Tennis Europe Junior Tour certainly kicked off with a bang with a magnificent display fitting of a tournament of its stature. The Christmas Cup has grown in leaps and bounds and has set the standard for many other tournaments to follow. Now in its 17th year, the event offered live streaming from multiple courts with commentary and statistics, a player zone, indoor pool, master class, interactive area, a kids’ day, a cooking masterclass as well as plenty of tennis action.
Former pros Igor Kunitsyn and Elena Dementieva were also on hand for some exhibition matches (starring as Batman and Superwoman respectively, pictured below) and meet-and-greets, and Russian Tennis Federation President Shamil Tarpishev was amongst the luminaries who came to see the action. The tournament featured many promising players from the host nation, as well as 21 other countries.
There is plenty more to come on the Junior Tour as winter rolls on. Next week sees events in France, Czech Republic and Lithuania. The next Super Category tournament starts in just 16 days, when the curtain raises on the one of the world’s most prestigious junior titles, Les Petits As.
For all this week's results, and the full schedule, go to: tenniseurope.org/tournaments