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Xu, Safiullin Target Australian Junior Titles
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Eight different players from five countries claimed junior slam titles last year, with a similar pattern expected in 2015 as the Australian Open junior championships kick off this weekend in Melbourne.

Top seed Roman Safiullin of Russia
© ZooTennis.com
Last year's champions Alexander Zverev of Germany and Elizaveta Kulichkova of Russia have had success on the pro tour in the past twelve months, each participating in the Australian Open men's and women's qualifying this year based on their professional rankings. With no junior slam champions in the field this year, all 128 players have the same dream: to emulate Zverev and Kulichkova in winning their first slam title and beginning the transition to a successful professional career.

Roman Safiullin of Russia has a head start on the latter, as he received the No. 1 seed based on his ATP ranking of 338. The 17-year-old won five straight Futures events to close out 2014, but he has had less success in junior slams, going 3-3 in the four he's competed in, including a first round loss last year in Melbourne. Russia, the only country to have more than one junior slam winner last year, has two more contenders in Bogdan Bobrov, who will be seeded, and Alexander Bublik, who reached the semifinals of the just concluded ITF Grade 1 warmup tournament in Traralgon.

Brazil's Orlando Luz, No. 3 in the ITF junior rankings, is most comfortable on clay courts, but the 16-year-old did win a silver medal at the Grade A Youth Olympic Games on hard courts last summer in China.

Four American boys are in Australia, hoping to equal or exceed the performance of compatriot Stefan Kozlov, who reached the first of his two junior slam finals there last year. Seventeen-year-olds Taylor Fritz, seeded third, and Michael Mmoh, the fifth seed, are among the favorites, with Fritz, a Wimbledon boys semifinalist, making his first appearance in Melbourne. Mmoh, who is returning after winning one match in Melbourne last year, is aiming to reach a junior slam quarterfinal for the first time.

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