NEW YORK – The last Canadian standing at this year’s U.S. Open wasn’t Genie Bouchard, or Milos Raonic, or even the dependable Daniel Nestor.
It was a little-known 15-year-old named Katherine Sebov of Woodbridge, Ont., who got through the qualifying for the junior girls’ singles event and made it all the way to the third round.
Here are some photos of her efforts.
As much publicity and praise as the Tennis Canada development program has received this year because of the results at the top, Sebov was the only Canadian junior in either the boys’ or girls’ events after Françoise Abanda, who qualified for the main draw in the grownups’ event, decided not to play.
At this point, Sebov isn’t even a full-time member of the national training centre program in Montreal. She doesn't have the matching, identical tennis clothing and shoes from a sponso. She remains at home in Woodbridge, Ont., north of Toronto, and has, by her count, five coaches.
“They asked me, but I thought I was just too young yet. Their training is pretty hard so I didn’t want to get injured,” Sebov said at Wimbledon, where she qualified and played in her first-ever junior Grand Slam. “I think I’m going to be there almost full time in September.”
The head of Sebov's coaching congregation is a very famous name in tennis circles: Robert Landsdorp, the California-based guru responsible for the sweet groundstrokes of Tracy Austin, Lindsay Davenport and Maria Sharapova.
Sebov periodically goes out to visit Landsdorp at his base in Los Angeles, where he sets up a training program for her, she said. The other coaches she works with, which include coaches at the Rexall Centre in Toronto and even former player Marie-Eve Pelletier, who often travels with her to tournaments (she was at Wimbledon) follow the plan.
The meeting was random. Landsdorp was giving a coaching conference in Toronto a couple of years ago, and he had some kids on the court to demonstrate what he was teaching. One of them was Sebov, who was almost eight years old when she started playing tennis and said she was 12 or 13 at the time.
“I played on his court for, like, five minutes and at the end of it, he came up to my mom and gave his e-mail. They stayed in touch and he said, ‘Why don’t you come (to L.A.) so I can help Katherine,” Sebov said. “That’s how it started.”
Wimbledon, and the warmup tournament the previous week in Roehampton, were the first timea Sebov had ever played on grass. She won two qualifying matches and reached the quarter-finals in Roehampton, then won two more qualifying matches to reach the main draw at the junior Wimbledon event, where she lost 7-5, 6-1 to Gabriella Taylor of Great Britain after jumping out to a 5-2 lead in the first set.
Sebov was pretty distraught after that loss. And then she had to come into the Wimbledon press centre for her first-ever formal, sit-down interview. Struggling to keep her emotions under control, she handled it beautifully.
And she clearly learned a lesson from that experience.
This week in New York, Sebov won two qualifying matches and upset No. 15 seed Ioana Rosca of Romania – a much bigger, stronger girl – in the first round.
Landsdorp was on hand in New York to lend support.
“She played a great first set, a horrible second set and came back the third set and played great again,” Landsdorp said of the first match. Her second-round against Tami Grende of Indonesia followed a similar pattern; she won 7-6 (5), 3-6, 6-4 and served out the match after getting the ultimate break of serve at 4-4 as though it were no big deal.
Sebov is a quiet one. She said she used to be pretty crazy on court, but "got over it" a few months ago and has found she's winning more matches. The most demonstrative thing she does is slap her leg to get herself going before a point.
Her reaction after the win over Grendhe was not to scream, or fist-pump, or jump. She just looked as though she were in disbelief, and went up to shake hands. The smile came later.
Sebov ended up losing in the third round, 6-3, 6-4 to No. 3 seed Iryna Shymanovich of Belarus, the No. 6-ranked junior in the world who was fresh off a silver in singles and a gold in doubles at the Youth Olympic Games in China.
“I like the way she plays. She’s 15 years old, so she has to get a lot of strength. She has to get a bigger serve and she has to get a little more street-smart on the court – you know what I’m saying. She has to learn that, but she has great potential,” Landsdorp told Eh Game. “Give her another year and a half or so, to get a little stronger, a little quicker, a little more able to handle the pace, and get a little smarter on the court, and she’ll be there.”