By Matt Cronin, special to USTA.com
PARIS – New York’s Louisa Chirico wasn’t a big name in junior ITF circles when she entered the Roland Garros girls’ singles draw a week ago. Now she leaves the tournament as a player to watch.
Roland Garros was only the second junior Grand Slam for Chirico, but the 17-year-old looked completely at home among the world’s best teenagers, advancing to the semifinals before falling to the No. 2 seed, Belinda Bencic, in three tight sets.
In Chirico’s previous Slam, she qualified for the 2012 US Open Junior Championships and lost in the opening round. And to this point, she was more familiar with green clay courts, belonging to a club in New York that has green Har-Tru courts and practicing on green clay at the USTA Training Center – East, located at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, where she works with USTA Player Development coaches.
"Clay courts are my favorite by far," said Chirico. "I like the red clay because there are fewer bad bounces on it, and the courts at Roland Garros are so amazing. I’m excited to have gotten so far at only my second Grand Slam."
Chirico started playing tennis when she was 7 years old, and just before she entered high school she decided to drop soccer, which she was also quite good at. A month into her sophomore year, she decided to be homeschooled as her travel schedule for tennis became heavier, and she knew if she was going to reach her goal of eventually reaching No. 1 as a pro, she had to put more time into her tennis.
"It was tough and I miss my friends," said Chirico. "But when I go home I try and see them as much as I can, [and] I love being here so it’s worth it to me."
In 2012, Chirico was a member of the U.S. Junior Fed Cup team that won the title, alongside 2012 year-end junior No. 1 Taylor Townsend and two-time junior Grand Slam doubles champion Gabrielle Andrews. Chirico went undefeated during the team’s run, which opened some eyebrows.
"It was a really great experience because I’d never played for my country before," Chirico said. "It was a new experience and I had a lot of fun. It was a really good week there."
Just before Roland Garros, Chirico reached the final at the of the Astrid Bowl in Charleroi, Belgium In Paris, she upended ninth seed Camila Campiz Giangreco of Paraguay, Russia’s Maria Marfutina, Spain's Sara Sorribes Tormo and then Kristina Schmiedlova of Slovakia in the quarters before falling to Bencic.
"It just about experience for me," Chirico said. "It’s going well so far. I’ve even working really hard and working hard on transitioning better. "
Chirico has not spent a lot of time playing juniors, mixing in a handful of USTA Pro Circuit events at the behest of her coaches from USTA Player Development. In fact, this year she reached the final of another $25,000 tournament in Surprise, Ariz., where she knocked off former Top 25 player Jarmila Gajdosova, and in 2012 she won a $10,000 USTA Pro Circuit event in Sumter, S.C., as a qualifier for her first professional title.
"Since September of last year she’s been doing pretty well," said USTA coach Jay Gooding, who is with Chirico in Paris. "We’ve kept her way from juniors as much as possible. We’re trying to put her on the pro path rather than the junior one because I believe her upside is big."
Chirico’s mother plays tennis recreationally, while her father was a basketball player. Gooding considers their daughter to be very athletic, with speed, balance and good hands. He also considers her a bit of late bloomer. She is modeling her game after 2011 US Open champion Sam Stosur, who owns one of the WTA’s biggest topspin forehands and kick serves.
"She doesn't use her athleticism as much as she can and still has lot of room to grow," Gooding said. "She has to learn how to move better on tennis court. With the way the game is today, athleticism is important. She plays with a big serve and a big forehand – now we are trying to get her to move inside the court to finish points."
Gooding is also traveling in Europe this summer with former US Open quarterfinalist Melanie Oudin and Townsend, who are headed to the WTA grass-court tournament in Birmingham, England, next week. Townsend will try and qualify, while Oudin is in the main draw. Chirico will practice there, then head with the group to Eastbourne, where she and Townsend will play the Maureen Connolly Cup just before the Wimbledon juniors begin.
Gooding says that Chirico needs more experience, but he likes her progress.
"She’s pretty raw and green compared to how many matches some of these girls have played," he said. "She still doesn't know how she is supposed to play yet. She’s getting better, but she's still not there yet. Under stress and pressure a player doesn't always think clearly and can go back to old habits. But if she can construct points and look to finish inside the court she is going to be high level."