Next generation of stars

Team effort: The girls singles finalists and boys singles and doubles finalists pictured with the ball boys and girls. photograph tyron bramwell








AFTER eight long days on the courts of Gippsland, the Traralgon Junior International came to a close on Wednesday, January 18.


The day of the finals, Wednesday, presented the Traralgon crowd with the two singles finals and two doubles finals to be played in the evening.


While in the meantime, the qualifiers for the Australian Open Junior Qualifiers were underway on the other courts.


Competing in the girls Final were seventh seed Russian 15-year-old, Mirra Andreeva, who faced an unseeded Turk, Melisa Ercan.


While in the boys Final, we saw two unseeded players go head-to-head.


On one side of the court was 15-year-old Italian, Federico Cina, who faced Kyle Kang from the US.


The finals were scheduled to start at 4:30pm, yet due to rain delays, nothing started until almost an hour later.


This wasn’t the only rain delay we would witness on that Wednesday night, as the night ahead looked long.


The boys Final was substantially shorter than the girls, as Cina won in three sets against Kang; 6-4, 4-6, 6-2.


Cina set the tone and was first to break the serve of his opponent, allowing him to build a first set advantage.


But, just like Cina did in the first set, Kang did in the second, to even the scores going into the deciding set.


Cina appeared to be much more composed, as his opponent continued to suffer from unforced errors, allowing Cina to take an advantage.


Cina got out to a 5-2 lead in the third set about to serve for the title, then it began to rain.


Just one game short of the title and he had to head back to the sheds for an extended break.


Following over an hour of waiting, the players were asked to return to the courts, and the boys made their way over to show court two.


With one game needed to take out the title, Cina did what was needed with minimalistic effort, to defeat Kang in the final set.


It was only the second time all tournament that Cina was taken to a final set, so kudos to Kang for his efforts.


“It was a fantastic week, see you next year,” Cina said to the crowd, hinting he will return to compete in 2024.


“Grazie (Thank-you) Traralgon.”


Over on show court one, Andreeva and Ercan encountered an everlasting battle that had spectators in the stands on the edge of their seats.


Andreeva climbed to an early one set lead, taking out the first set 6-2, breaking Ercan twice.


The youngster looked to have the Turk on the ropes early, always putting her on the back-foot to defend her onslaught.


It was evident that Ercan’s mentality changed in the second set, perhaps using offence as the best type of defence, beginning an attacking battle.


Ercan showed Andreeva what she was made of in the second set, never backing down from the fight, despite it being that way on the scoreboard.


Ercan then won the second set; 6-3, forcing a third, deciding set, but then that rain decided to cover the court.


Just like the boys, the girls had to wait for over an hour to step foot back on the court to battle it out of the title.


When they returned, they exerted any last amount of energy they had in the tank, giving the spectators a show.


Ercan broke Andreeva’s serve early to hold the advantage, but this didn’t take anything away from the physical torment the girls looked to be going through.


Ercan continued to power through the final set, using her lead to her advantage to then serve for the title.


Which she did expertly, to close the game out; 2-6, 6-3, 6-4, in a match that lasted just over two hours.


Funny how two unseeded players managed to take out the tournament in both singles divisions.


“It was a fantastic week for me,” Ercan said during the presentation.


“It was incredible, thank-you so much.”


While the girls finished up on the show court one, the boys doubles were finishing up too on court nine.


America’s Learner Tien and Cooper Williams, seeded sixth, took out the boys doubles tournament in straight sets; 6-2, 6-4.


Tien and Williams could well have faced one another in the singles Final, yet were both knocked out in the Semi Finals by the two eventual finalists.


You couldn’t possibly wipe the smile off their faces, as they were joined by countryman, Kang, who showed his support after losing the singles.


“It was a lot of fun, definitely not the time start we planned for, but nonetheless, great match,” Williams said.


“It was a great tournament, it was a great week for me and Learner.”


The presentation took off on the show courts, as runners-up collected their trophies and the winners did so too, walking away with a traditional Akubra hat.


“On behalf of Tennis Australia, it’s been a pleasure to be here this week,” Tennis Australia’s Francis Soyer said.


Following the presentation, the girls doubles was due to start, as Andreeva was competing in it too, alongside fellow Russian Aline Korneeva.


The two Russians faced off against Japanese duo Sayaka Ishii and Ena Koike.


Despite playing a single match for over two hours, Andreeva returned to the court, looking unfazed by the fact she only finished a match half an hour ago.


She made it her mission to make sure she wouldn’t just lose two finals in one night, but also get her hands on an Akubra.


Boy, did she make it look easy.


Andreeva and Korneeva stormed to the title, as a small crowd watched on as the night grew cold and old.


By around 10:45pm, the last match of the tournament had finalised, as Andreeva and Korneeva defeated the Japanese pair in straight sets; 6-3, 6-2.


When Soyer asked the winners if they wanted to say a few words, the girls both responded with: “to who?”


Practically everyone had gone home by this stage, only around 10 to 15 people remained at the courts.


“I want to say thank you to everyone who stayed until the end to watch our doubles,” Andreeva said.


The Traralgon Tennis Association courts were then host to the Australian Open Junior Qualifiers, meaning the fun didn’t stop for long.

Determined: Despite going a set down, nothing stopped Melisa Ercan from coming back into the match.

Thanks: Boys champion Federico Cina thanks the everyone in attendance for their support, while sporting his new Akubra.

Winner: Girls champion Melisa Ercan speaks to the crowd.

Dynamic duo: Boys doubles champions Cooper Williams and Learner Tien say some words during the presentation.

Class of 2023: Singles champions join the sponsors, AGL Loy Yang General Manager, Christo van Niekerk (left), and Latrobe City Deputy Mayor, Dan Clany (right).

Good sport: The girls doubles finalists come together after their Final.

At last: Russian duo Mirra Andreeva and Alina Korneeva finally got their hands on a pair of Akubra’s.

Team effort: The girls singles finalists and boys singles and doubles finalists pictured with the ball boys and girls. photograph tyron bramwell