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Beginner’s Guide: Claire Liu builds on early promise with spring surge
Get to know the latest young American making waves in women’s tennis, a former junior Wimbledon winner making her Roland Garros main draw debut.
Published May 24, 2022
Liu kicked off the clay swing with an impressive performance against Paula Badosa in Charleston.
As of May 23, 2022, the United States boasts a whopping 12 women in the Top 100, a diverse mix of intergenerational stars with a variety of intriguing game styles.
Few, however, may have more natural talent than 21-year-old Claire Liu, who is making her Roland Garros main draw debut this week after winning eight of her last nine matches—resulting in her first WTA 125K title and first WTA final in Paris and Rabat, respectively.
Get to know the California native as she prepares to make good on her junior promise and improve on her career-high ranking in Paris.
Born and raised in California, Liu has been making headlines on the tennis court since she was 14, when she became the youngest woman since Anna Kournikova to win an ITF Pro Circuit title. That same year, she nearly qualified for the 2015 US Open, falling in the final round after knocking out former Top 50 star Jana Cepelova.
On the junior level, she took part in back-to-back all-American Grand Slam finals in 2017. After finishing runner-up to Whitney Osuigwe at Roland Garros, she defeated countrywoman Ann Li to lift the girl’s singles title at Wimbledon. Liu brought that momentum to New York where she made her US Open main draw debut thanks to three impressive wins in qualifying.
Watching her outlast Sesil Karatantcheva that week, I was struck by her commitment to all-court tennis—even when it didn’t always work; the then-teenager made relentless approaches to net behind her Bulgarian opposition’s defensive plays, and kept pressing in spite of several wild overhead misses.
The following year she earned main draw wins at both Wimbledon and the US Open—and was the only woman to take a set from Angelique Kerber at the All England Club in 2018. Closing in on a Top 100 debut, a disappointing 2019 season sent her tumbling to a low of No. 401.
Liu has turned that slump around to tremendous effect in the post-pandemic landscape, reaching four ITF finals—winning two. By August, she made a run to the Chicago 125K, losing to eventual US Open champ Emma Raducanu but at last cracking the Top 100.
Though her early results have come on quicker surfaces, Liu has been a revelation on clay this spring, starting in Charleston where she reached the third round and pushed Paula Badosa to three sets.
"I grew up on clay, training at the USTA centre in Carson," Liu told the WTA website. "I try to be able to do everything in my game, so hopefully I can do well on every surface, but the clay helps me move and get one extra ball back."
She lost no momentum switching from green clay to red, earning wins over Kaia Kanepi and Beatriz Haddad Maia to win her first WTA 125K title in Paris, and maintained the streak at the Grand Prix de SAR La Princesse Lalla Meryem, where she reached her first WTA final.
Though she lost to Martina Trevisan, the run put her up to a career-high of No. 75 in time for her first French Open main draw.
Why It Matters
Of those 12 American women in the Top 100, Liu completes a quartet of 21-and-under stars that includes fellow Wimbledon finalist Li, Amanda Anisimova, and Coco Gauff. Effective on all surfaces, the youngster players with the kind of unbridled aggression and competitive spirit that can’t be taught.
The shots don’t always go in—and for a while, they weren’t going in at all—but the improved consistency has clearly bred confidence, which will only make her more dangerous as the season unfolds.
Her first match in Paris will be against No. 24 seed Tamara Zidansek; semifinalist at this event in 2021, Zidansek has amassed a 1-5 record since the Australian Open, making the Slovenian ripe for the kinds of upsets Liu can cause.
Briefly overshadowed by her fellow young countrywomen, Liu could reclaim a slice of the stage with a debut win on the terre battue, and would bring fans to their feet if she could book an all-American third round against No. 11 seed Jessica Pegula.
But even if it doesn’t happen here, Wimbledon is just around the corner…