Four Indian juniors to compete at U.S. Open

Zeel Desai, Siddhant Banthia, Mahak Jain and Mihika Yadav will lead India’s charge at the final junior Grand Slam of the year.

The U.S. Open will be Zeel Desai’s last tournament as a junior.   -  AFP

The leading Indian juniors will attempt to give a fitting finish at the U.S. Open, the last Grand Slam of the season, in New York.

The All India Tennis Association (AITA), in collaboration with the Union Sports Ministry, will support the three players with their travel and provide a coach as well, as was done for Wimbledon.

After former Fed Cup player Arati Ponnappa Natekar had helped the Indian juniors, it will be the turn of experienced coach Arun Kumar to shepherd the team at the Flushing Meadows.

Zeel Desai, the best junior in the country who was ranked a career-best 18 in May following her quarterfinal entry in the Australian Open, will be on her own with coach Todd Clark. Desai, who is supported by the Gujarat government, will be leaving later in the week and play the U.S. Open, her last junior event.

Arun will take care of the other three players — Siddhant Banthia, Mahak Jain and Mihika Yadav.

Siddhant and Mihika are already competing in a grade-1 junior event in Canada, in preparation for the U.S. Open, while Mahak will be reaching shortly to get acclimatised to the conditions in New York.

“Siddhant and Mihika will be sharp and match ready. It is a good idea to play a tournament before the Grand Slam,” said Arun.

Coach Arun has guided players like Yuki Bhambri, Sriram Balaji, Sanam Singh, Vivek Shokeen, Divij Sharan, Vijayant Malik, Rupesh Roy, Tara Iyer in junior tournaments, including the Grand Slams in Melbourne, Paris and Wimbledon.

He had words of praise for the diminutive Mahak, who has consistently defied the odds and has also beaten Zeel in a grade-2 final in Delhi early this year.

“Mahak has been playing very good and getting good results,” said Arun, about the 16-year-old who made the final of the Asian junior championship apart from a grade-1 junior event. She has also won two grade-2 tournaments.

“It is a good chance for the junior players to enhance their confidence,” said Arun, who recalled Divij Sharan and Tushar Liberhan making the doubles semifinals of the junior French Open.

Arun was the coach when Sasi Kumar Mukund and Dhruthi Venugopal clinched gold medals in the Commonwealth Youth Games in Samoa in 2015. The Indian duo swept all the three gold medals at stake, including the mixed doubles title.

“Unlike clay or grass, our players are quite comfortable on the hard courts, and are capable of playing a high quality game,” said Arun, optimistic that the youngsters would be able to better their records at the U.S. Open.

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