Buoyed by the double

Gritty display… Pranjala Yadlapalli with her trophies. Against the top seed, Wushuang Zheng of China, Pranjala showed great determination to win the singles title.-

By jumping to a career-best rank of No. 22 in the world at the junior level, thanks to a double crown in the Asian Junior Championship, Pranjala Yadlapalli does her confidence a world of good, ahead of the junior Grand Slams in Roland Garros and Wimbledon, writes Kamesh Srinivasan.

Pranjala Yadlapalli unveiled her technically superior game and steely resolve to win the Asian junior girls title in New Delhi recently.

By winning the title, Pranjala, 16, joined the likes of Sania Mirza, Isha Lakhani, Rutuja Bhosale and Snehadevi Reddy, all winners of the Asian junior crown, and proved that she has a promising future.

Pranjala, coached by Ilyas Ghouse and supported by GVK, showed that there was something special about Hyderabad that produced champions of remarkable maturity and composure.

From a talented girl with a few glaring weaknesses in her game, Pranjala showed that she was getting better with an all-round game, backed by a strong serve and a majestic forehand. She also trains with Saravanan Saran to improve her physical fitness, but there is still scope for improvement in this area. Better mobility would carry her forward.

She has the hunger to succeed, a quiet resolve to fight it out until the end. Pranjala has the dedication and determination to capitalise on her potential. She has a certain calmness about her that is so rare in Indian sport. She hardly gets ruffled by the ebb and flow during a match, and is not easily rattled by poor line calls. Yet Pranjala can flare up when circumstances demand and insist on quality work from the officials on duty.

By jumping to a career-best rank of No. 22 in the world at the junior level, thanks to a double crown in the Asian Junior Championship, Pranjala did her confidence a world of good, ahead of the junior Grand Slams in Roland Garros and Wimbledon. Earlier in the year, at the Australian Open, she had lost to junior World No. 1 and the Youth Olympics champion, Xu Shilin of China, in the second round.

Nam Hoang Ly... the winner of the boys singles title.-

Pranjala’s father Kishore Yadlapalli was worried about financial support for his daughter, as the funds had been exhausted for the season. However, the ITF Grand Slam Development Fund came to the rescue of Pranjala, who had won a Grade 1 junior title recently in Thailand, assuring her of total support until Wimbledon.

The way she handled the tall and strongly built Chinese, the top-seeded Wushuang Zheng, in the Asian Junior Championship final was a lesson for every young Indian. Against a superior opponent, Pranjala slugged it out and turned the match in her favour. She retained her composure to provide an appropriate finish just when the match seemed to be going the other way in the climax.

It was a shock for Wushuang Zheng, who had teamed up with Pranjala to win the doubles title. She could do little against a gritty Pranjala on a warm morning.

Mihika Yadav was the other Indian girl who did well before bowing out to Wushuang Zheng in the semi-finals.

In contrast, the Indian boys disappointed. With the country’s No. 1 junior Sumit Nagal skipping the event, it was left to the likes of Alex Solanki, Garvit Batra, Aryan Goveas, B. R. Nikshep, Vasisht Cheruku and Basil Khuma to keep the nation’s flag flying, but none of them could cross the first round. In fact, among the 16 Indian boys in the fray, only Aditya Anant Gokhale and Dhruv Sunish made it to the second round of the singles.

Aryan Goveas gave a good account of himself against the top seed and eventual champion, Nam Hoang Ly of Vietnam, but failed to capitalise on the two set points he had in the second set tiebreak. Nikshep had been troubled by a painful shoulder for some time, while Cheruku, suffering from food poisoning, was unable to keep up the momentum after winning the first set against Rio Noguchi (Japan).

The rest were not able to cope with the quality game and athleticism of their opponents.

Players like Pranjala may be in a good setup with adequate support, but there is no doubt that Indian tennis desperately needs a good junior development plan.

The fact that the under-16 boys and girls, and under-14 boys had failed to progress beyond the Asia-Oceania stage in the Junior Davis Cup, Fed Cup and World junior tennis should be a major cause for worry. To add to the woes, the All India Tennis Association has discarded the national under-18 circuit from this season, which may complicate matters a lot more than anyone can visualise at this stage.