Liu leads young Americans on the learning curve

London (AFP) –


Claire Liu is the youngest player at Wimbledon and the Californian teen is surfing a wave of new US talent breaking into the big time.

Liu, 18, last year's Wimbledon girls' champion, was back at the All England Club, this time in the seniors, where she gave former world number one Angelique Kerber a run for her money, despite being the lowest-ranked player left in the draw.

"We have a lot of young Americans doing really well. That energy and seeing everybody do well, it pushes me to get better," Liu said.

After coming through three rounds of qualifying, Liu, the world number 237, beat Croatia's Ana Konjuh in the first round to set up Thursday's clash with Kerber.

Liu took the first set off the two-time Grand Slam champion but lost 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 to the German 11th seed on the 1,000-seater Court 12 show court.

It was the first time that Liu had faced a top 10 player and she was pleased with how she stood up to the test.

- Nothing to lose -

"Overall, I'm pretty happy with the way I've performed," she said.

"I tried to play as if I had nothing to lose and seeing that I took a set off her, it gives me some confidence to know that I can play against the top pros.

"I'm just going to learn. Every single match that I've played, I can learn from, especially this one. It was such a great experience and hopefully I can carry it into the rest of the season."

Liu is part of a wave of US teenagers breaking through on the women's tour, including Sofia Kenin, Catherine Bellis, Caroline Dolehide and Amanda Anisimova.

At 18, Liu is a full 20 years younger than her compatriot Venus Williams, the oldest player among the 128 in the women's draw.

But the Californian is no Wimbledon novice: she won the 2016 girls' doubles and then became the first American to win the girls' singles title since Chanda Rubin in 1992, earning her a ticket to the post-tournament Wimbledon ball.

"That was probably my prom because I didn't get to go to an actual prom. It was an amazing experience seeing Roger Federer and Garbine Muguruza," she said of last year's champions.

- Turning pro -

She said her youth had not concerned her going into the Wimbledon main draw and would not be deterred by bumps along the road.

"I tried not to think about being the youngest one," she said.

"The most important thing is to just focus on getting better and not to worry about winning or losing."

Eugenie Bouchard, the 2012 Wimbledon girls' champion, suggested players should spend more time honing their game on the junior circuit rather than rushing to go professional.

But Liu claimed it was down to the individual.

"The junior and the pro circuit is very different but if you have the right mindset and work hard I don't see why any top junior couldn't do well," she said.

Kerber, who won the 2016 US and Australian Opens, predicted good things ahead for Liu.

"She will have for sure a great future," the German said, "if she is practicing like that and playing matches like that".

Kerber said it could be a tough transition from the juniors to the seniors, despite top youngsters having played for titles.

"It's always different when you go to the big tournaments. You play against the top players in the world. It is quite a big step."