Bouncing back in Barcelona

Tshepo Kehimile
FULLY FOCUSED: Youri back to winning ways

Tennis teen shrugs off injury to win in Spain

Having endured a tough 2022, her progress hampered by niggling injuries for much of the year, Barcelona-based tennis ace, Ekua Refilwe Youri enjoyed a welcome return to form at the weekend.

The big-hitting 17-year-old served up a masterclass on Tennis Club Badalona’s hard courts, smashing her way to three comprehensive victories to defend the Circuit Absolut FCT crown she won last year.

Showing no signs of her early-season woes, Youri eased through her opening match, sweeping Turkey’s Benu Selvi Malak aside 6-1, 6-1 with ruthless efficiency.

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Carrying this momentum through to the semi-finals, the Gaborone-born star proved far too strong for Amaya Gonzalez, overpowering the Mexican with her heavy ground-strokes to win 6-1, 6-3.

Taking on highly rated British youngster, Jorja Reynolds in what proved to be a one-sided final, Youri continued her dominance, completing a routine 6-1, 6-1 victory to finish the tournament without dropping a set.

Reflecting on her seemingly straightforward triumph in an exclusive interview with Voice Sport from her Spanish base, the talented teen insisted it had been anything but.

“I never take any of my opponents for granted, I expect every match to be challenging. The matches were with players I had played against previously, so I did feel slightly nervous but my confidence level was high,” revealed Youri, noting she had gained valuable lessons from the week-long tournie.

“I have learned that pre-tournament preparation is important, and with immense support from my coach, I felt confident thus being consistent throughout the competition. I have also learned to manage my energy levels as it can be draining when you are playing a tournament that lasts for a week,” she said.

Her triumph in the Catalonian capital comes in the midst of what has been a stop-start, injury-plagued season.

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Bouncing back in Barcelona
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The teenager’s struggles are all the more frustrating as they come on the back of an incredibly successful 2021, in which she won the Africa Junior Championships U/16, David Ferrer U/18 Grade 5 and the Circuit Absolut FCT.

“This year has been difficult with lots of injuries. I only reached the quarterfinals and semi-finals in a few tournaments that I played this year. It has been frustrating but I am glad to have grabbed this one as it will definitely boost my morale going into the few International Tennis Federation (ITF) tournaments left on the calendar,” she declared, adding she will be competing across Europe in the upcoming weeks.

Having just started her second year of A Levels – in Spain the school year runs from September through to June – Youri faces the added difficulty of trying to balance her career with her studies.

“It is challenging to juggle schoolwork and tennis but I do my best to stay focused and do well in both areas,” said the world’s 370th ranked junior – a position that represents a drop from the career high 310 she began the year on.

To compete in the majors, she needs to get her ranking up into the top 100. It is a dream the ambitious teenager is not ready to given up on just yet.

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“I have decided to focus on Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Tournaments but if my Junior Rankings improve, I would definitely relish the opportunity to play in one of the junior grand slams,” concludes Youri with typical defiance.

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