Sometimes the emergence of star catches one by surprise. It can come from the most unlikely of places and happen at the most peculiar of times, but the first appearance of Claire Liu on a WTA main draw stage is something that could be looked at in the years to come as the first step of many before her rise to prominence as a regular WTA star.
Liu is only 17 years old and has been winning matches for fun at the junior level. It is a very different level, but a winning habit at any level breeds confidence at the highest of levels. Winning is winning. The promising, young American made her first Grand Slam juniors final at Roland Garros, where she narrowly fell short to fellow American Whitney Osuigwe, but claimed her maiden juniors slam trophy the following month at Wimbledon.
I feel we could be looking at a star and a future Top 10 performer. Why? Her game is very well-rounded for someone of such a young age. Regularly you see players break away from juniors, but they still have considerable flaws and considerable limitations that get exposed massively on the main tour. Sure, Liu has her weaknesses, which I will talk about later, but the exciting thing about this youngster is her persistence in following her game-plan, but executing that game-plan in a positive manner. In the women’s game we often talk about the power hitters from the baseline. The difference between a good WTA player and a great WTA player is the one’s who master the transition game. Who can step forward and take the ball out of the air on the big points and on the right points. Liu does just that at 17. Her overheads aren’t pretty, but the timing and the belief in her volleys are what will set her up for the big WTA matches in the year to come.
In terms of her drive volleying skills it is the best I have seen from a 17-year-old since I started following tennis in 2011. She knows when to take advantage of the heavy shot from the baseline, which makes the execution of the point a lot easier to deal with. The serve is strong, but the ground-game is even stronger. She can hit powerful of both sides – the forehand may need a bit of work – but she is confident in attacking off either side.
She will learn a lot from her loss to Nicole Gibbs. She served for the match, she questioned her tactics in the tough moments, but the self-belief will get better with time. The next twenty four hours following this defeat will be priceless and a timeless opportunity to make sure Liu irons out those limitations for the next WTA main draw and the greater opportunities that lie ahead. Top players always say that it isn’t the victories you learn to get better from, but it is the defeats, the real bitter losses that push players to push to greater limits and to become an elite professional tennis player.
Not only is the next 24 hours a crucial period of time for Liu, but enabling Liu to keep her feet on the ground in the months leading up to the US Open will be a massive factor in determining just how good this young player could turn out to be. Many constantly seek for the “next Serena” or the “next Venus” but realistically they are rare, unique, outstanding individuals that transcend our sport. With Liu, we are potentially looking at a Top 10 regular and a potential Grand Slam winner, but that can only happen if she has the right team around her, she responds well to these losses – because there will be many of them in her ascension to the higher ranks.
It’s not about finding the next Serena Williams. It is about getting the very best out of the player’s and for them to achieve their absolute maximum with the talent that they have by putting in the hard work to go with it. Liu’s upside is incredibly high. She’s beating the best juniors in the world and has a very solid game to take her further on the WTA tour, but what is imperative is for the people around her to make sure the transition from juniors to the main tour is as perfect for the 17-year-old as can be. If that happens, then I see no reason why she cannot win a lot of titles, have a lot of success and make a lot of money in the wonderful game of tennis.
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