Text- Ross McLean (itftennis.com)
Belgium’s Sofia Costoulas has done her research.
When discussing her aims and ambitions for the next few months, she mentions that few junior players go on to win their maiden Junior Grand Slam after previously losing a final and she is not wrong.
Since the turn of the century, only 12 girls have recovered from the disappointment of being defeated in a Junior Grand Slam final to then top the podium at a major further down the line.
That, however, is the quest currently facing the 17-year-old after she reached the final at the Australian Open Junior Championships in January only to fall short against Croatia’s Petra Marcinko on Rod Laver Arena.
Should Costoulas succeed where others have failed and indeed triumph at a Junior Grand Slam following past heartbreak – her first opportunity to do so comes at Roland Garros in early June – then she will be keeping extremely good company.
The likes of Caroline Wozniacki, Ons Jabeur, Coco Gauff and most recently Leylah Fernandez have all done so and, as her clay-court campaign continues at this week’s Grade A event in Offenbach, Costoulas certainly believes she has the credentials to follow suit.
“A Junior Grand Slam is where you want to be at your best and, for me, I hope to win a Junior Grand Slam this year,” Costoulas tells itftennis.com.
“I already made a final, so I feel that I don’t have any pressure any more for the upcoming Grand Slams. I definitely want to do even better than I did in Australia, so my goals are bigger than before, but I feel less pressure because I have already contested a final.
“Having been to a final and seen that moment, I think I have the level to win a Junior Grand Slam although it will be difficult because I don’t think many junior players won a Grand Slam after reaching a final.
“But I hope to again achieve some very good results. I know that every match will be very tough because it was clear from Australia that there are some top players, and every match is difficult and decided by just a few points. We’ll see, I’m very excited.”
The current focus for Costoulas is Offenbach, an event which is making its debut on the ITF World Tennis Tour as a Grade A junior competition – the highest classification – having been promoted from Grade 1 status by the ITF last year.
Moving to its current home in 2005 having started out in Frankfurt, the tournament has a rich history with Tomas Berdych, Victoria Azarenka, Pablo Carreno Busta, Ana Konjuh, Barbora Krejcikova and Hyeon Chung all past winners.
Costoulas is the highest-ranked and top-seeded girl on show there this week and faces a first-round showdown with home favourite Stella Beldiman today as she bids for her fourth singles title of 2022.
She arrived in Germany in red-hot form after triumphing in singles and doubles at Grade 1 events on clay at Vrsar and Plovdiv in the last month, titles which have helped Costoulas reach a career-high junior ranking of No. 2 in the world.
“I feel really good,” said Costoulas, who has also competed on the ITF World Tennis Tour Women’s this season and reached the semi-finals at W25 Guayaquil as a wild card in March.
“I recently played two J1s on clay and won them both, so I have had great preparation coming into Offenbach. It’s important for me to get as many matches as I can on clay as Roland Garros is a goal.
“As I say, I feel good. I started the year very well, winning Traralgon [another J1] and making the Australian Open final, and I have managed to continue at the same level since, which I am very happy about.
“The Australian Open was a big learning experience for me and there were a lot of new experiences that I could not get anywhere else. I am grateful to have lived these moments and they have helped me in a lot in my tournaments since.”
In October last year, Costoulas joined the Kim Clijsters Academy in Bree where she now trains and hones her skills in a bid to take the next steps in what she hopes will be a long and fruitful career.
An interesting quirk of fate is that the teenager’s future is intrinsically linked to her past as she only became interested in tennis after spotting four-time Grand Slam champion Clijsters on television, competing at the US Open.
“I was three or four years old at the time and I saw her on TV,” added Costoulas. “Right after I told my mum and dad that I would like a tennis racket and balls. I just started at home, hitting against the wall and it has progressed to what it is now.
“I loved watching Kim because she has a wonderful fighting spirit and a very good mentality – if she lost a match, she was still always nice to people. But her game was also aggressive, and I want to be like that.
“She is a big influence for me, and she has traits that I would like to see in my own game. I don’t want to copy – I will do it in my own style – but she is a great role model.”
Also of great significance to Costoulas is her Greek heritage. This very much came to the fore at the Australian Open as she gained new legions of fans courtesy of the large Greek population in Melbourne, which houses the largest Greek-speaking community outside of Greece and Cyprus.
“It does mean a lot to me,” said Costoulas. “In Australia, I got a lot of questions about it because the Greek community is very big there, especially in Melbourne, so there were a lot of people supporting me.
“My father is half-Greek and half-Congolese. My Grandad was obviously Greek and I used to talk a lot with him, but he passed away when I was five or six years old so I don’t speak the language as much as I used to.
“Greek culture is very important to me. I have a lot of family over there and when tennis was not so much of a priority for me, I used to go there regularly, but it has been a long time since I visited my family in Greece.
“Hopefully this year I can go to pick up the language again and reconnect with my family.”
Who knows, by then Costoulas may well be able to re-introduce herself as a Junior Grand Slam champion.