Sriram Balaji has the third best singles ranking behind Yuki Bhambri and Vishnu Vardhan among the six players shortlisted for the Davis Cup tie against New Zealand to be played in Chandigarh from September 14 to 16.
The 22-year-old lad from Chennai has also won nine Futures doubles titles with eight different partners.
Yet, Sriram may not be able to take his place in the eventual four-member squad for granted. He may or may not make the team, but Sriram is on the right track in the world of professional tennis.
The fact that the Tamil Nadu Tennis Association (TNTA), that had backed him for nearly a year-and-a-half for the training stint at the Schuttler-Waske Tennis Academy in Germany, took its hands off him by the end of last year has made the young man realise the urgency to make his career a success.
Balaji provided a thrust to his career by winning the Futures singles title at home in Chennai earlier this season, and has been making other finals as well. He had broken into the professional circuit as a precocious talent in 2006, playing tough matches against the likes of Aqueel Khan of Pakistan who dominated the Indian circuit at that time.
Alexander Waske who has been training Sriram in Germany, and still plays the professional tennis circuit as a doubles player at the top level, has a high opinion about the lad.
Waske distinctly remembers the words of Karti Chidambaram, of the TNTA, when he sent Sriram for training, “to make a German out of the boy.”
“We first taught what intensity meant, which was quite tough to understand for a kid who came from Chennai and practised for two hours in the heat. You cannot sprint full out at all times in such conditions.
“But, at most other places in the world the climate is not brutally hot and it is necessary to play with full intensity,” said Waske, quite happy to talk about the lad despite being busy at the U.S. Open.
“We worked a lot on his fitness, schooled him in technique, changed his forehand motion, changed the toss on his serve, got him to play more aggressive,” he said.
The TNTA may have dropped him, but Balaji has been able to take care of the financial aspect and is focusing on his tennis to ensure a steady rise in the rankings which stand at 378 in singles and 352 in doubles.
“We are very proud of his achievements. It takes time to build a player physically, mentally, technically and tactically,” said Waske.
With other talented Tamil Nadu players — Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan and Prajnesh Gunneswaran — also training at the German Centre, Balaji feels quite at home.
“We will go step by step with him, and obviously we want more,” said Waske, quite pleased about Sriram making the semifinals of a Challenger after starting in the qualifying draw. We want him to reach the top 250 as soon as possible, so that he can get into the qualifying of the Grand Slam tournaments,” said Waske, quite confident that Jeevan and Prajnesh would also climb the ranking ladder further.