Remember the name Kayla Day.
The reigning US Open junior champion returns to Flushing Meadows next month as a full-time professional and, according to tennis Hall of Famer Gigi Fernandez, is on track to tennis stardom.
“Winning the US Open [Juniors] is very impressive,” Fernandez told The Post Thursday at the United States Tennis Association’s inaugural “US Open Experience” in New York’s Seaport District. “Because normally, if you fast forward 10 or five years, people who are winning the junior grand slams are usually top 5, top 10 in the world. There’s been a correlation in the past x-number of years.”
Since turning 17 last September and opting to turn pro over attending college, Day has charged up the world rankings, from breaking the top 200s a month after her birthday to entering the US Open at No. 126. For Day, putting her skills to the test against the best players in the world was a no-brainer once winning matches in juniors became routine.
It also doesn’t hurt that the effervescent teenager, whose confidence she says comes naturally, craves the pressure and the bright lights.
“She loves to be on the big court, she loves to play the biggest players and she wants to be out there,” said Day’s coach Roger Anderson. “Some people hope they don’t get a big court, but she actually wants it. So, this is perfect for her.”
Coming off a practically unstoppable 2016, which also included a win in the USTA Girls’ 18s national championship, Day’s first year on the WTA tour has been an abrupt lesson in discomfort and losing. The Santa Barbara native called the constant traveling the biggest surprise of life as a pro — four days is the most she’ll spend at home at one time, she said — and acknowledged the area in which she’s grown the most is learning to control her emotions after losses.
Perhaps it was no coincidence then that the best tournament of Day’s young career came in her home state. In March at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, she picked up her biggest win yet with a three-set, come-from-behind victory over Australian Open semifinalist Mirjana Lucic-Baroni (now, No. 31) in the second round. The win pitted her against this year’s Wimbledon champion and third-ranked player, Garbine Muguruza, and Day didn’t flinch. She took the first set, 6-3, and kept it tight in the second before dropping that one, 7-5, and eventually the match.
“I felt like after that I could really compete with these top-10 players. That was a really good learning experience for me,” Day said, taking a short break Thursday from playing with kids on the court resembling Arthur Ashe Stadium as part of the USTA’s two-day festival.
“I didn’t really expect anything going in. … I was hoping that I could at least give her a good match and I felt like I really pushed her far, so that was really good for me.”
Day, a lefty, grew up idolizing Rafael Nadal and has strived to match his competitiveness, while surprising her opponents with her irregular forehand, just like the men’s current No. 1.
“She has the advantage because she’s a left-hander, which enables her to open the court with her forehand, hitting the balls with angles,” said Anderson, of South Africa, who’s coached stars Martina Navratilova, Patty Schneider and Nadia Petrova and started working with Day after Wimbledon. “She anticipates the game well — I think that’s her biggest strength. She has a good court sense and she’s a really good defender.
“Another huge advantage she has is her competitiveness. She’s a problem-solver, which I don’t think you can teach and she’s OK with winning ugly.”
The same likely could be said for the 14 American women in the top 100, the most of any country, as tournament play opens Monday. Day hopes to join her friends and playing partners — CiCi Bellis (No. 36) and Jennifer Brady (No. 91) — in the top-100 pool soon and, a year after her juniors win, the US Open — which she calls “by far” her favorite tournament — seems like the right place to start.
“I’m friends with basically all of them,” Day said of the youth generation. “It’s great that we have such a good group that we can train and push each other, so it’s not only hard work but we also get a little bit of fun because we’re all such good friends.”
That is until Day steps onto the hardcourt and turns that mental switch.
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