TWUSA exclusive with Kaja Juvan: 'I’ve always looked up to Roger Federer'

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TWUSA exclusive with Kaja Juvan: 'I’ve always looked up to Roger Federer'

The 17-year-old Kaja Juvan has been one of the most promising juniors on the Tour in the last couple of seasons, achieving a lot in juniors and building her way through the WTA rankings to enter the Top 200. A former Orange Bowl and European champion ended her junior career at the age of 16 after the last year's ITF Junior Masters to chase pro success, becoming one of only a few players born in 2000 or later with three professional titles in 2018. A few weeks ago, Juvan decided to go back to the junior Tour and compete for her country at the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, winning two gold medals in singles and girls' doubles to write history as the first player who managed to do that at Youth Olympics! Thanks to Tomislav Poljak from the StarWing Sports, we had a chance to talk with the promising Slovenian about her experience in Buenos Aires, career so far and future plans, and here is what she had to say about herself and her game:

When did you start playing and who introduced you to tennis?

I started playing tennis when I was about five or six.

I started training in a group in a club. There is one tennis camp where I and my family go every year for a week and we play tennis there. There I took the racket for the first time. My mom and dad played tennis there and I wanted to try it also and that is how I got introduced to the tennis world.

You come from Slovenia, a small country without a big tennis tradition. How tough was for you to make the first serious steps and did you get any help from your tennis federation?

Slovenia is a small county and conditions are not great.

I am lucky because I have a great team. I started with the tournaments in Slovenia, and then I won a few at Tennis Europe to eventually build it up to play the ITF tournaments. With hard work and a lot of effort from me and my team I succeeded.

Also, my federation is still helping me, they always tried to help me financially and I am very thankful for it.

You decided to end your junior career at the age of 16 and seek success on the professional Tour. Tell us something more about your junior days and rivalries with Marta Kostyuk, Olga Danilovic and Anastasia Potapova.

Also, share some fun memories from the doubles action, playing alongside Danilovic, Swiatek and Boskovic.

I decided to end my junior career because I’ve experienced everything. I had this feeling that I can make a step forward.

When I played against Marta, Olga or Anastasia I’ve always had a feeling that I belong there, that I can play with them and beat them. They are my friends and I’ve played doubles with all of them, Swiatek and Lea Boskovic, they are all my good friends.

Junior tournaments are different than the WTA Tour. In the juniors we are more friends and hang around with each other, on the ITF level is more rivalry.

Last year, you had to beat Danilovic and Kostyuk in back-to-back matches to lift the European Junior Championships crown in Klosters.

Tell us more about those matches since they were very intense and tight.

I wasn’t expecting much of it because I stopped with juniors. I decided that I don’t want to lose that thing, especially for my country so I played that tournament.

I played with Olga before that and Kostyuk and I knew they were good. The team spirit lifts you up and because of that it was a special tournament because a lot of Slovenians cheered for me together with my team. I lowered my expectations and I got high results by winning that tournament.

The tournament was high in the mountains and it was beautiful.

You are currently the ninth-best junior on the WTA rankings list and the future of the women's tennis certainly looks great with so many talented players from around the world.

How do you see your chances against Dayana Yastremska, Amanda Anisimova and others in the following years and do you feel ready to challenge the players from the very top?

I think I am going slowly towards my goals.

It is not easy; I have to go step by step. I feel that I can challenge the girls from the top, I proved that in some matches. If I continue to work hard I believe I will be there soon.

What do you think about the 2019 ITF Transition Tour and the opportunity for the young players to make their progress through the rankings more easily?

The transition tour is probably good for young players.

For everyone else will be hard to break into the professionals, under that I mean for the older players who are also trying to break in. I think we will be able to see more junior players ranked higher.

You had a chance to play in the first professional final at only the second tournament at that level and to conquer the first title as a qualifier at Bol in 2016, still at the age of 15.

What was the main difference between the junior matches and those encounters against much older and more experienced players?

The main difference is that there are a lot more experienced players, especially at the $25,000 tournaments.

The older players don’t give up and they know more tactics and they are strong. From that point of view it is harder, but in juniors sometimes young players play stronger than pros. The main difference is just experience, because the older players know how to prepare for every match.

After ending your junior career at the ITF Junior Masters last year, you decided to get back to that level and defend the colors of your country at the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires two weeks ago where you won two gold medals.

Tell us more about that experience and how did you feel with two medals around your neck? Also, you suffered leg injuries in both the singles and doubles gold medal matches, give us an update on that and how serious they are.

My experience in Buenos Aires was really good.

We decided to go there since it is the Youth Olympics, it just happens every four years and it is for my country so I played it. I decided to say goodbye to the juniors last year but since it was the Youth Olympics I wanted to say goodbye to the junior tennis one more time.

It is really great that I got two gold medals as a reward for these past years. I think getting two gold medals is a reward for my hard work and for my team who put a lot of efforts. The juniors were really fun time for me and I have a lot of great memories from it.

I think that my leg injury wasn’t that serious. In the semi-final, I was really tired because I played a lot of matches. Before the Olympics, I had a leg injury and it took us three weeks to fully heal it. In that period of time I did not practice a lot, I was a bit sick.

In the semis I got cramps, I played with a bit of pain on Sunday from that leg. In the finals, I also played with some pain but it was a lot of adrenaline because it was the title matches so I did not feel it that much. I am playing a tournament next week already.

Who were your role models and which players you liked the most while you were growing up? I wouldn't exactly say I'm obsessed with him, I just adore how he plays and love how he moves on the court, how he makes the thing easy and takes the ball so early.

Everything just seems so easy and that impresses me. On the other hand, I also admire Nadal and Djokovic, how Rafa fights for every point and the way Djokovic has everything on the court. I am trying to take the best from each one of them and focus on what I can get from them to my tennis that's the most important thing.

Describe your game style, favorite surfaces and shots you rely on the most. My game style is quite diverse.

I try to use a lot of different shots. Crosses, drop shots, I love to play drop shots, love to take the ball early. I love to mix it up a bit, my game is evolving and I think that is good. My favorite surface, to be honest, I use most of my shots on clay.

I practice on clay since I was a girl and feel the most comfortable on it. There is not a lot of hard courts in Ljubljana so I grew up on clay. I love to play drop shots and the clay is a good surface for it. I also love to play on the grass.

It is something really special and it is a great feeling to play on it. When I feel the ball I also like to play on hard court, the points are shorter and they take less time, when I feel the ball it is really good to play on hard.

How do you spend your free time and what food you fancy the most?

I usually do school work because I am still in the last year of high school, if I have enough time I spend time with my friends, watch some movies. Lately, I don’t have that much time because of training and I am traveling a lot and have to catch up with school work.

I also love to paint; it is something that relaxes me and it is one of my hobbies and whenever I have time I rather draw or paint. I love Chinese food, some of the Mexican food. My parents cook really well; I wouldn’t say that I have my favorite food.

I love home cooking food, my favorite dessert is tiramisu, and sometimes my parents make it for me when I come back from the tournaments. It is amazing and is my favorite one.

What goals do you want to accomplish in the next three years? To physically develop myself, that is my first goal.

I have to improve on my tactics and some shots, there's always something to improve. But first I have to develop my body to be able to play long matches with stronger girls. I really hope to go into the Top 100 or into the main draw Grand Slams, those are the bigger goals in the next three years.

I want to be healthy, keep on playing and keep on improving.

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