Living a dream where she gets to determine the outcome, the No.1 female junior in the world is riding a surreal wave of success all the way to the shores of South Florida, where American Claire Liu hopes to make magic happen at the final Miami Open on Key Biscayne.
The 17-year-old Thousand Oaks, California native made international tennis news by winning the 2017 Junior Wimbledon title, raising eyebrows and her confidence along the way.
“When I won Wimbledon, that was one of the best moments of my life for sure,” she said, laughing as though she still can’t believe her own reality.
Drinking water on Crandon Park’s Court 5 in the quiet of a post-early afternoon practice, Liu talked about the process of seeing her dreams beginning to unfold before her very eyes.
“When I became serious in tennis, I think the dream for anyone is to be world number one and win many Grand Slams, but I didn’t think I really saw myself being here until last year when I really started doing well,” she said. “It was pretty recent when I felt like I could actually play against the top pros.”
The talented teenager, who is articulate beyond her years, said she realizes her life is not like that of most kids her age.
From traveling the world to having the discipline to forego lazy afternoons on SnapChat in pursuit of her goals, Liu knows she must be mature beyond her age to succeed to the levels she aspires. “It’s definitely not normal,” Liu said, laughing again and smiling at her own honesty. “A lot of people my age don’t get the opportunity to do things I do, like travel and get to do the things I do, so I’m really grateful for that.
“One thing I’m grateful for is I have a great team around me. My parents and my coach are really work-oriented and it doesn’t matter about the result as long as I keep working hard. It doesn’t matter if I’m 100 or 1 in the world as long as I’m working hard.”
She said she didn’t always have such good perspective.
“When I was younger, I had a pretty good year in 2015, and in 2016 I was putting so much pressure on myself to do the same thing, to keep beating good people,” she said, adding that she used to be a very emotional player. “And I got worse and now I just think about just playing one day at a time, and it really worked for me.”
Her talents haven’t gone unnoticed by those who have had similar experiences.
Laura Arraya, who played a decade on the WTA tour and reached the quarterfinals of Wimbledon in 1991, said she likes what she sees in Liu. “Claire is another great talent that confirms the good moment that American junior tennis is having with five of eight Americans in the quarterfinals,” said Arraya, who is the sister of Key Biscayne Tennis Association Pro Pablo Arraya. “She’s very steady, very solid from the baseline and will give a good match to any professional player.”
Away from the court, Liu said she enjoys spending time with her friends in Southern California, just trying to grab slices of normalcy where she can.
“I have a lot of tennis friends because that is just who I grew up with, but I also have friends who don’t play tennis, family friends who don’t play tennis, which is nice. It’s good to go back home and not have to think about tennis.
“I’m not good at playing video games,” Liu said. “I like shopping a lot, going to the movies and going to restaurants to eat. I like all foods, I’ll eat any food.”
Now the talented teenager with the aggressive game is ready make a lasting memory at the Miami Open by simply doing the best she can in what will be her final Crandon Park appearance.
“I like it here; I think it’s really well run,” she said of the Miami Open, adding that she planned on going into the Village of Key Biscayne for lunch before her playing schedule gets too busy.
Her goal for this year’s Miami Open is simple and steeped in a youthful, carefree approach to life. “I just want to have fun, enjoy the experience and try to play some good tennis,” she said.