Victoria Jimenez wins the Longines Future Tennis Aces tournament on a court right under the Eiffel Tower
The Eiffel Tower in Paris is famous for a lot of things, but I never thought it'd also be the site of an official tennis match.
In a scene that seemed to come straight out of a tennis-cum-historical-landmark heaven, the finals of the Longines Future Tennis Aces tournament were held at a special clay court set up right under the Eiffel Tower. It was a vision so surreal that I was almost compelled to rub my eyes in disbelief; were we actually seated beneath the underbelly of the Eiffel, watching a tennis match unfold with all the passionate cries of victory and despair that you'd normally associate with Roland Garros?
There was another thing that the girls' match had in common with Roland Garros - a lefty Spaniard running roughshod over the opponents.
The Longines Future Tennis Aces tournament has been in existence since 2010, and it is a terrific way to showcase the future of the sport. The event is open to U-13 players from all over the world, and this year there were as many as 20 countries that had sent their representatives.
At the end of a hard-fought draw, there were just two girls standing: Spain's Victoria Jimenez and USA's Clervie Ngounoue. And if you know anything about claycourt tennis, you'd be able to predict who won the final between these two.
Ngounoue was all offense, taking the ball early and looking to manufacture winners whenever she got the opportunity. Jimenez on the other hand was creative and crafty, looking to use a variety of spins and placements to draw errors out of her opponent.
At first, it looked like offense would have no answer to defense on the day. The court surface didn't seem like it was laid in a hurry; it was slow and gritty, making it tough to put the ball away. And Jimenez ran down practically every big shot that Ngounoue hit on the way to a 4-1 first set win (the match was played in the first-to-four format with no-ad, not unlike Fast 4 tennis).
But the American found her footing and her forehand in the second set, breaking Jimenez at the start and then keeping up that form to win the set. It was a fascinating contrast of styles; Ngounoue was looking to set up shop in the middle of the court, directing the ball to either corner, while Jimenez was trying to use as much spin and angle as possible to push the American out of position.
Ultimately, it was persistence that paid off. Jimenez used her down-the-line backhand (her backhand was surprisingly her more potent wing despite being a lefty) to devastating effect in the tiebreaker, running away to a 5-1 lead. Ngounoue didn't give in, clawing her way back to 5-5, but Jimenez once again forced her to hit a few extra shots that she wasn't able to.
The tiebreaker sealed, Jimenez let out a cry of joy that probably shocked all the tourists standing in line to see the Eiffel. It was that kind of moment though; Jimenez was uber-expressive throughout the match, and after battling so hard down the home stretch it was no surprise she had such a mighty release of emotion after it was all over.
At the trophy presentation there was none other than Steffi Graf who did the honours, while fellow legends Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario and Guy Forget (the organizer of the event) were also at hand to commemorate the occasion. Through it all, Jimenez remained a picture of composure, as though she was a veteran accustomed to all that.
Don't be surprised if you hear a lot more of the name Victoria Jimenez in the years to come.