LONDON (Reuters) - A decade ago a fresh-faced Maria Sharapova won the Wimbledon title at the age of 17, following in the footsteps of Martina Hingis in making an early breakthrough.
No teenager has lifted the Venus Rosewater Dish since Sharapova’s victory over Serena Williams in 2004 and 16-year-old Croat Ana Konjuh thinks none is likely to.
Konjuh played former world number one Caroline Wozniacki In Wimbledon’s third round on Friday, the youngest player to reach the third round of a grand slam since 16-year-old Michelle Larcher de Brito at the French Open in 2009.
Despite battling bravely and delighting the crowd with punchy forehand and deft touches at the net, Konjuh slipped to a 6-3 6-0 defeat against the 16th seed.
Asked whether a teenager would win Wimbledon again, Konjuh, ranked 189 in the world, said: “I think it is near impossible.”
Young players are restricted in the number of tournaments they can enter and Konjuh, who won the junior Australian Open title in 2013, said their progress can be stalled by a lack of playing time.
“They put that rule in because they don’t want a 16-year-old to win Wimbledon,” Konjuh, who began playing tennis at the age of five, said. “That’s fine because if you are good you are going to get through anyway.
“When you have a whole year for 16 tournaments, it’s like one and half tournaments per month - it’s nothing. “It’s the rule here so they can protect us,” Konjuh said.
“Sometimes it’s frustrating when you know that you have to be clever with your schedule and wait for a tournament.”
While Konjuh hopes to return to southwest London next year, 17-year-old Swiss Belinda Bencic continues to fly the flag for youngsters at the All England Club having beaten 18-year-old American Victoria Duval in the second round.
Bencic, who has drawn comparisons with compatriot and former champion Hingis, faces French Open runner-up Simona Halep in the third round.
But Bencic says she does not feel the weight of expectation.
“I’m motivated that Switzerland is thinking of me,” she said. “I’m really motivated to do better.
“I don’t really try to let the pressure come to me, I just focus on the game.”
After beating American Taylor Townsend to become junior Wimbledon champion last year, Bencic, like Konjuh, has seemingly made the transition to the women’s game with ease.
“I’m really happy that I could start in the main draw here after winning the juniors last year,” Bencic, who regularly consults Hingis about her game, added. “It’s really nice that all these players are coming up.
“Also Ana (Konjuh). We played the juniors last year and we’re now on the pro tour. I think it’s really good for women’s tennis.”
Reporting by Michael Hann; editing by Clare Lovell