The 2017 U18 Outdoor Rogers Junior Nationals wrapped up on Sunday, August 20, putting an end to yet another fantastic week of tennis from Canada’s brightest junior prospects at the Ontario Racquet Club in Mississauga. After two terrific battles in the singles finals, it was Alexandra Vagramov of British Columbia and Victor Krustev of Ontario who reigned supreme, both winning the singles titles a day after winning the doubles titles to complete the sweep at the biggest nationally exclusive junior tournament in Canada.
Third seed Alexandra Vagramov capped off a dominant week at her second U18 Nationals, powering past third seed Rhea Verma of Ontario, 6-3, 6-4, to claim her second title at this level in as many tries, having claimed the indoor title at just 14 years of age earlier last year. An early break for Vagramov was all that separated the two in a tight opening set before a hard-fought second, largely dominated by a number of breaks of serve, eventually went the way of the 16-year-old British Columbian, capping off one of the most memorable weeks of her young career.
“I was a bit nervous in the beginning of the match but they were more nerves of excitement as I was really glad to be in the final,” said Vagramov. “I was ready for a tough match as Rhea is a great player, [and] this win definitely signifies that I can deal with pressure as I had won the indoor 18’s last year. Weeks like these are always a great indication that all the hard work I am putting in is paying off.”
Two courts over, fifth seed Isabelle Boulais of Ontario got the better of top seed Layne Sleeth in a spirited battle to take third place for the third straight year with a hard-fought 6-2, 7-6(5) victory at her final Nationals.
On the boys’ side, the championship match was an intense battle between two of Ontario’s brightest stars: third seed Nick Lagaev and fifth seed Victor Krustev. Having not dropped a set all week, Krustev continued his fine form in the final, eventually finding his groove to take the first set, 6-3. From there, he would jump out to an early break to start the second, one that would ultimately prove decisive, but remarkably, he needed 11 match points before finally being able to get over the line, clinching a dramatic 6-3, 6-4 victory to end his junior career.
“I felt solid. In the beginning, I wasn’t really hitting my returns like really well, ’till I found my groove around the mid-first set. After that, right away, I got the break, won 6-3, then continued with the momentum, broke first game [of the second], [then went] up 3-0,” Krustev recounted from his perspective. “I wasn’t hitting the ball the same, it got windier, he was playing looser. But I maintained my break from the first game of the second set and eventually held for the match at 5-4.”
In the third-place match, British Columbia’s Jack Davis came from a set down to record a memorable victory in his final Nationals, defeating Nazar Achour of Quebec, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3.
Remarkably, the two singles champions this year were also victorious in doubles a day earlier, with their partners also repeating as doubles champions in their final national championships. Having faced off in the singles semifinals just a couple hours earlier, top seeds Vagramov and Boulais teamed up to win their first tournament together with a 6-2, 6-3 victory over number two seeds Ontario’s Ariana Arseneault and Anca Craciun, 6-2, 6-3. Similarly, in the boys’ doubles, Krustev and Davis teamed up after battling in the singles to complete their perfect début as a team, not dropping a set en route to the title as they clinched the title with a 6-1, 6-3 victory over Liam Draxl and Jonathan Sorbo of Ontario.
Ontario is lucky enough to host both the indoor and outdoor U18 Nationals, with the indoor event taking place every April at the Mayfair Club in Markham. For Canada’s top juniors, these two prestigious events are often their last chance to see how they match up against their peers before making their way into Open-level and, for some, pro-level events.
- Nick Lagaev
With the level of young Canadian talent arguably at an unprecedented high today, we asked some of these juniors about their overall experience competing at this level: the forefront of junior tennis in Canada.
“Playing Nationals for me is always special because it shows the progress in my game from all the practices and training leading up to these tournaments,” said Lagaev. “I enjoy this because everyone comes together to share the same moment and even though you are put through a lot of stress to perform, everyone is in the same situation as you and that’s what makes it so unique.”
“It’s a great competitive environment and everyone knows each other so well so it’s always great to be around your friends, since at international tournaments, it’s rare when you know nearly everyone,” compared Vagramov to other events she’s played.
Despite the individual pressures to perform at their best at the Nationals, doubles remains a highlight year after year for the juniors, making for a more practical way of competing while having fun. “Doubles for us juniors is really about going out there and having fun competing in a different situation where we do want to win but we can also practice what we need to work on for singles, and of course laugh at our mistakes when we have a friend by our side,” explained Boulais, now a four-time U18 National champion in doubles.
Competing at the highest level requires countless sacrifices, which include the strenuous part of travelling, but it’s a part of the life that most players enjoy when they’re not near the courts.
“I love traveling and am very grateful to have had the opportunity to travel all around the world thanks to tennis,” said B.C.’s Vagramov. “Vancouver is still by far my favourite city that I have been to so it’s tough to leave home but with tennis, you need to make some sacrifices.”
“I like playing in Ontario because my whole family can come and support while I play,” said Lagaev, who hails from Vaughan. “When I travel outside of Ontario, and even outside of Canada, I like the process of being independent and trying different things.”