It’s a measure of how Mimi Xu is not here to make up the numbers that she is quite clearly devastated to have lost to a former US Open semi-finalist.
She is 14 and has been facing Yanina Wickmayer, a Belgian former world No 12 more than twice her age, demonstrating a 100mph serve and deep, searching forehand.
Xu’s formative step into senior competition, though, at last week’s ITF Women’s World Tour event in Ilkley, West Yorkshire, ended with a 6-2, 6-2 defeat.
Mimi Xu can qualify for Wimbledon aged just 14, a year younger than Annabel Croft was in 1981
‘I guess the difference is the experience they’ve got and also knowing you have to maintain that level, knowing that it’s a big step,’ she says, with confidence beyond her years. ‘But my game’s there. It’s about knowing that I don’t need to do too much different.’
It is Xu’s physical presence on the court which is most striking. She certainly doesn’t look like a Year 10 pupil, cast in a senior elite tennis environment. Her hour on court with Wickmayer provides insight into how she has recently managed to win the Under 18 National Championship while four years beneath that age.
Her power is the most noticeable aspect. Briefly, Wickmayer seems to sense the potential for headlines and looks rattled. She is infuriated by a judge’s line call early in the match. Xu’s errors — most fatefully a double fault and netted elementary forehand in the second set — point to an inevitable need for more time at this level.
As well as potentially play at Wimbledon this summer Xu will take two of her GCSE exams
Yanina Wickmayer, 32, is currently ranked World No 670 having previously been as low as 12
She is about to get considerably more. Xu’s Under 18 British title, secured in April after a final against a 16-year-old from Leicestershire, means she will play senior Wimbledon qualifiers this week.
Were she to win, she would become the youngest British player to compete at Wimbledon in the post-1968 Open era and — though early 20th-century records are sketchy — possibly the youngest to do so in more than 100 years.
Very few, if any, British players this young have appeared at the Roehampton qualifiers. Annabel Croft was 15 when she won through to the main draw that way in 1981. The USA’s Coco Gauff was 15 years and 122 days old when she came through the three rounds at Roehampton in 2019.
Xu claims that she has been buoyed by fellow British teenager Emma Raducanu’s success
‘In that moment I won the Nationals, I couldn’t really believe that I’d be in the Wimbledon qualifiers,’ says Xu. ‘It just didn’t sink in for a while but it will be a good opportunity. I like to think I keep calm but sometimes I go on court and there will be a few nerves. I’ll be trying to remember that my game is there.’
Xu is one of a number of the current crop of British juniors from an ethnic minority background. Her mother Wendy, a retail store manager, and father Tony, a digital engineer, are both Chinese, who came here to study and met at Swansea University.
The family still live in the city. Xu played at the Swansea Tennis & Squash Club before moving into a training and development programme under the guidance of coach Fran Lewis at Swansea Tennis Centre. As Emma Raducanu’s development within a stone’s throw of the Bromley Tennis Centre has proved, easy access to such a facility at a formative age can have a huge impact.
Xu, like Raducanu, has family in China, and though she does not have the same awareness of them or the part of the country they hailed from, her multicultural background would have the same appeal if she can also build on her promising emergence from the junior ranks.
Xu and Raducanu spent an hour and a half together playing at the National Tennis Academy
Like many of the British players, Xu says she feels buoyed by Raducanu’s success. ‘It’s been really eye-opening,’ she says. ‘Seeing that if she can win like that, we can do that one day, too.’
She recently hit with Raducanu for an hour and a half at the National Tennis Academy at Loughborough. ‘It was really fun being there in the moment and she was really nice, really encouraging,’ says Xu. ‘That helped me.’
Raducanu first played at Wimbledon aged 14
Raducanu knows all about becoming a star Under 18 player at the age of 14. She was the same age as Xu is now when selected for the annual GB v USA Maureen Connolly Cup, featuring the best of the two nations’ Under 18 players.
She won one of two matches there, in 2017, before making a debut at junior Wimbledon, where she lost in the second round. Xu competed there aged 13 last year and lost in three close sets to 18-year-old Russian Polina Kudermetova, the junior world No 6 at the time.
Making the main draw will be easier said than done for Xu, who will take maths and Spanish GCSEs this summer, with the rest next year.
Three challenging qualifying matches stand between her and a place at SW19 a week today. But she appears to have the mentality for whatever might come next.
‘I guess it’s quite a big jump from juniors to women’s and I’m not really used to it,’ she says. ‘But I can take a lot from the experience I now have and I think I’m heading in the right direction. I’ll just try to stay calm and focus on my goals.’