Samir Banerjee: Wimbledon boys' title gives motivation to play at the highest level

Samir Banerjee, an Indian-American tennis player from New Jersey, won the Wimbledon boys' title on Sunday. Banerjee speaks to Sportstar about his big moment and the road ahead…

When Samir Banerjee travelled to the UK for the Wimbledon a few weeks ago, the 17-year-old had very little expectations. He had just suffered a first round defeat in the French Open and the Indian-American tennis player from New Jersey knew that it would be a tough challenge to turn things around.

But it was an incredible outing for the youngster as he stormed into the final of the boys' singles event - taking everyone by surprise. And at the All England Club on Sunday afternoon, he created history, defeating Victor Lilov in the summit clash to clinch the title.

READ | Wimbledon 2021: Indian-American Samir Banerjee wins boys' singles title

A few minutes after his win, Banerjee spoke to Sportstar about his big moment and the road ahead…

You lost the first round of French Open a month ago and today you are the Wimbledon boys' champion. How do you see this journey?

It’s crazy. After French Open, my expectations were pretty low. It’s pretty tough to compete with these guys, it could go anywhere. So yeah, Wimbledon was tough and my only expectation was to turn things around. I won the first round, then the second round and slowly I gained confidence about my game. I got my self belief that I could play well on grass courts, so I was able to string together a couple of good matches and could reach the final. And I just played my best tennis today.

Shrugging off the French Open disappointment, how did you prepare yourself for Wimbledon?

Playing in grass is obviously very different. I went home to New Jersey between the French Open and Wimbledon and there are grass courts near my house, so I played there. It’s a lower bounce and fast surface - so I was trying to adjust to the conditions. My game really suited that and I was able to make a transition to the grass courts very soon.

The opponent in the final was your old friend Victor Lilov. Since you have a fair idea about his game, did it help?

I have played Victor before, but that was a while ago. We are good friends, we talk a lot but we have not played much against each other. His ball kind of plays into my game a little bit, so it helps in coming up with a lot of backhand shots - which are my favourite. Victor is a great player, but I could gain the upper hand with my serve, forehand, backhand. My playing style helped me today in winning against him.

A few months ago, you trained with Prajnesh Gunneswaran and Sriram Balaji in Germany. What did you learn from those sessions?

Training with Bala and Praj was a great experience. It just showed me how much it takes to prepare for tournaments. On court, they are so focused on their practice and are very good ball strikers. They are also very good role models - their serve and return would be perfect and those things motivated me to take my practice as seriously as they did.

You are a Novak Djokovic fan. Did you ever have an opportunity to interact with him?

(Laughs) He is playing the Wimbledon final as we speak. I am watching the game from the locker room. I have never spoken to him before, but I would love to talk to him today. Not sure when he will be free today, but it will be great if we can have a word.

You will be going to college next year and your parents feel that you should focus more on education. But after winning the Wimbledon title, what are your plans?

(Laughs) I think this gives me a lot of confidence and motivation to play at the highest level. It shows me that I can [play at the highest level] if I work hard and improve my game. I will aim to play more Tours, which will give me an idea as to where I stand. Hopefully, I can keep improving and play well. 

READ | Wimbledon: A dream run for 17-year-old Samir Banerjee, parents pleasantly surprised

What has this Wimbledon taught you as a player?

It has shown me that I can take my tennis as far as I can. Before this, I was just interested in using tennis to go to college and play at higher level juniors. But now, it has shown me that I can compete at this level and I can win. Maybe I can take it to the next level and it gives me a lot of confidence. It also taught me a lot about professionalism and how to deal with matches, the crowd and how to play at a big stadium - these are all learning experiences.

Leander Paes was the last Indian to win the singles junior title in Wimbledon in 1990. Since you have an Indian connection, the Indian tennis fraternity is also excited…

(Laughs) Leander Paes is a household name and his achievements are unbelievable. I am honoured to be on the same page with him - in terms of winning the junior title. But it’s tough to follow him, but I will try. It will be a tough road from here.

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