A quick glance at the roll call of honour of junior girls Grand Slam winners is enough to show it is beyond question a good indicator of future success and glory on the main WTA tour, and a decent place to start when engaging in the notoriously difficult challenge of picking the major winners of the future.
The current world No1 Iga Swiatek, the recently retired Ash Barty, Simona Halep, Victoria Azarenka, Paula Badosa, Agnieszka Radwanska, Martina Hingis, Jelena Ostapenko, Lindsey Davenport, and Amelie Mauresmo all lifted junior Slam trophies. And even the Brits got in on the act through Heather Watson, Laura Robson – and going back further Annabel Croft and Sue Barker.
Which brings us to the winner of this year’s Australian Open junior girls winner Petra Marcinko of Croatia, still just 16, and the world junior No1. The Zagreb youngster is already carving out a formidable reputation for herself.
Marcinko doesn’t play like a junior. With a powerful serve, very strong off both wings, with already the tennis intelligence to construct rallies and points and unafraid to come to the net, the teenager looks as if she could have been around the main circuit for years – and early displays reflect that.
There have already been two professional tour titles in ITF tournaments, and her full WTA world ranking at the time of writing has shot up to No388, from 925 as recently as the end of January.
But a junior Slam puts any young prospect firmly on the radar, and those attending the French Open at Paris’s Roland-Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open in New York later this year should make a point of checking out the future if the opportunity presents itself.
Marcinko’s huge promise also and notably earned her a very early and as it turned out spectacular debut for Croatia’s Billie Jean Cup team captained by former Slam winner Iva Majoli, in the Europe and Africa zone qualifiers for November’s play-offs.
The 16-year-old, playing alongside the vastly more experienced Petra Martic, Donna Vekic and Ana Konjuh, won all four of her singles matches to have the best record in the team as Croatia beat Sweden, Bulgaria, Georgia, Austria and then Serbia.
Majoli, who beat Hingis in the final to win the 1997 French Open, said of Marcinko: “We gave Petra a chance, I felt she was in great shape. And I think that she has a great career ahead of her, and am very glad that she is already part of our team.”
No player has ever won all four junior Slams, although a couple have come close – Bulgaria’s Magdalena Maleeva claimed three in 1990 and three years earlier Natasha Zvereva, at the time representing the USSR but later becoming Belarusian, achieved the same feat.
And the chances of Marcinko finishing the year with more than one appear strong even amid such stiff competition, with the clay of Paris and the hard courts of New York looking to offer her the best chance of making it an even more special 2022.
Croatia has a rich tennis history, with Goran Ivanisevic, Marin Cilic – also a former junior boys’ winner - Majoli and Mirjana Lucic-Baroni in the doubles among their senior Slam champions.
And Marcinko’s spectacular rise and emergence as she attempts to one day emulate them really began at the back end of 2021, which finished with her being crowned the ITF junior world champion.
In December she won both singles and doubles titles at the prestigious Orange Bowl junior tennis championships, which saw her rise up nine places to become No1 in the rankings.
And then early this year, with a 14th win in a row, she won the Australian Open junior title with a 7-5, 6-1 victory over Belgium’s Sofia Costoulas in the iconic Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne.
Speaking after that final, Marcinko said: “The match was really tough – but playing on Rod Laver has been a great experience.
“I was kind of nervous at the beginning because it was a big stadium, and my first time playing a Grand Slam final but I kept calm in the important moments and I kept my game through all the time without having big drops.
“Having this trophy, winning a Grand Slam, for me it’s so big. Now I’m feeling good, feeling confident. I am really excited to see how it’s going to be like on the pro level, where I’m going to play this year, to see how I’ll do on the stronger ITF tournaments, and maybe some WTA.”