I hate playing moonballs, she says, with a smirk. C. Sai Samhitha prefers to whack the ball on a tennis court like her idol Serena Williams instead of caressing it in a manner many players of her age group do. Neeraj Elangovan loves to finish each and every point with a huge ace down the middle.Standing at six feet, Neeraj sends shivers down the spine of those tiny tots across the court. In a span of one year, the two teenagers, both 14 years of age, from Tamil Nadu have moved up the All India Tennis Association (AITA) junior rankings ladder backed by consistent performance.
Talented in every sense
Its not just that they have mechanically accumulated points competing in the numerous Talent Series, Championship and Super Series that happens in almost every corner of the country regularly, Samhitha and Neeraj appear to have the temperament, determination and the devotion and most of all, parental support, to make it big someday.Neeraj had reasons to cheer this year as he clinched three AITA titles in Madurai in February this yearunder-14 singles, u-16 singles and doubles and two AITA titles in Coimbatore-boys u-14 singles and doubles recently. This has seen his under-14 rankings jump from 20 to 11.
Im happy with my performance this year. My confidence levels are high. I know I can play a lot better, says Neeraj, a trainee at the Triangle Tennis Trust (Nandanam).For the Roger Federer fan, it was not an easy ride. Early on, when Neeraj started out he couldnt cross the first hurdle. Be it a state-ranking or a National tournament, his shot-selection and his quality of strokes werent up to the standards. As in everybodys life, opportunity knocks once. And it did for Neeraj in 2008 in the form of the adidas-MCC junior National championships. Till then, getting into the main draw was a problem, he says. I surprised myself when I defeated Arjun Khade in the second round and went on to enter the MCC National semifinals. That event doubled my self-belief.
As regards Samhithatouchwoodits been relatively a smooth journey thus far. Ranked No.1 in the girls under-14 category in India, Samhitha, coached by Hiten Joshi at Tamil Nadu Tennis Association courts in Egmore, made all and sundry take notice when she bagged the under-14 and 16 singles titles in Coimbatore recently. Competition in my category is tough. There is Bhuvana, Teertha Iska, Tarranum Handa. They are all good players. I have to work hard to maintain my position, she says in a matter of fact manner.While Samhitha took to the sport at eight, e to her parents liking for the sport, Neeraj picked up the racquet after seeing his cousin Asha Saravana Mohan play. Both are fortunate to have had international exposure.
Samhitha was part of the Fed Cup under-14 team that went to Malaysia this year, while Neeraj travelled to Nick Bollittieri Academy late last year.The immediate priority for the two is the forthcoming adidas-MCC junior National championships that commence on August 24. We are keen to perform well in the junior Nationals, they saywhile insisting that lack of sponsorship has been a major irritant. Though it is too early to say how their career will pan out, these smart kids have it in them to make their journey an enjoyable if not a successful one.