Lodewijk Weststrate: the Tennis Programme's youngest talent
At the launch of the ABN AMRO Partner of the Future programme, Lodewijk Weststrate was the youngest player to be selected for Richard Krajicek and Esther Vergeer's team. Both mentors were fiercely enthusiastic. “Lodewijk's talent jumps out at you,” Richard Krajicek said at the time.
Some time has passed since he made his debut on the Juniors ITF Tour, which is widely regarded as “the real deal” for juniors, with the very best of the world's youth participating. Mirroring the ATP and WTA Tour, low-ranked players start out in the qualification tournaments, after which they get the chance to score points in the main tournament.
Lodewijk: “My first time playing in the ITF was in 2015, in the Netherlands and Belgium. It’s quite a step to get into the ITF, in which you’re pitched against older and better players. The Juniors ITF circuit no longer separates players into age brackets, meaning all players aged 18 or below play in the same tournaments.”
Lodewijk’s performance in the Junior Orange Bowl, the world's largest international tournament, had landed him in the top 12 of his age bracket, so the ITF was to be the next major step. But Lodewijk did not sit on his hands in the meantime. While he participated in various tournaments, including the Dutch Championships, his mentors at the KNLTB plotted the course to further ITF tournaments. The first challenge was a tournament in Turkey. “I had to get through three qualification rounds to earn a spot in the main tournament. The qualification tournament got me properly warmed up, since I made it directly into the quarter finals. After beating three Turkish opponents, the Czech Sprlak Puk turned out to have the upper hand over me,” Lodewijk recalled about his participation. With his first ITF points in the pocket, he had at any rate significantly boosted his odds of gaining entry into other tournaments. A big moment. On 6 April he made his debut on the ITF ranking as the world’s 1261st best male player in the junior circuit.
Nottingham was the next stop along the way, in April. Two consecutive tournaments offered promising opportunities, and again Lodewijk qualified twice. In the first one, he didn’t make it beyond the first round. The next week he did make the second round, but this did not net him any points to boost his score in the rankings. Still, the tournament provided him with some crucial experience he would need in future tournaments. Mentor Richard Krajicek spoke with Lodewijk and the KNLTB mentors.
“I could tell that Lodewijk was in form and I wanted him to use that momentum to boost his score. Aside from his games in England, Lodewijk has been delivering a stellar performance all year. Which is why we, his coaches and his parents decided to send Lodewijk and a coach to Montenegro,” Richard Krajicek explained. Sander Jong, who is also involved in the Partner of the Future programme, joined the travel team. Lodewijk performed brilliantly in Montenegro. In the Grade 4 tournament (the ITF's grades run from 5 to 1) he made it into the semi-finals. The next week he proved that he could do it again, playing the semi-finals once more. Even more spectacularly, Lodewijk defeated Timofey Skatov, the Russian player currently ranking 320 on the ITF juniors list and last year’s best European player in the up-to-14 bracket. His Montenegro results had Lodewijk move up to an ITF ranking of 797.
Richard Krajicek: “Lodewijk's unbelievable performance is leaving us and everybody else awe-struck. He is just fourteen years old, so virtually every opponent is bigger, stronger, and more experienced. Lodewijk does not get fazed by that in the least, and stands his ground like a true champion. It is adamantly clear that we were right about his potential during last year's selection.”