Indian girls’ junior No. 3 Pranjala Yadlapalli has already been on the radar of many tennis fans for a number of years now, and the 17-year-old is currently in New York City, readying for her second round at the US Open Tennis Championships.
The teenager, who is playing her second US Open this year, entered the tournament as a qualifier, but has done well to enter the main draw, and will today play Alexandra Sanford of the USA.
“It’s going to be a day match, and it’s hot here,” she says. Juniors do not play night matches, Yadlapalli tells me, and so most of her day is spent on court. “Morning, I wake up, immediately exercise. Then I go and hit for a while, do light exercise again, I’m on court, then I get a bit for lunch, then back to practice, and rest.” It’s a tough responsiblity for someone whose peers are probably getting some time with a book or in front of a television while she’s putting in her best on court.
“It’s tough, yes, but it’s fun,” she says. And Yadlapalli, who has spoken before of how taxing a tennis career can be, finds excitement where there is even the smallest bit to be had. “Lunch is awesome!” she quips, “at lunch we sit with the older players. All the seniors. It’s a common lunch lounge, and you get to see the best of the best there and just say hi.” A star herself, the starstruck Pranjala tells me about having seen “Delpo, Nishikori, Cilic, they were all there!”
At her young age, Yadlapalli talks with the ease of a seasoned veteran as she speaks of courts at Flushing Meadows. “I’m playing an American today (Alexandra Sanford), so maybe we’ll get a better court,” she says. But the 17-year-old does not lack for support. “Indians here have been coming and supporting me so much! They cheer me on, they have been since the early rounds, and it is very, very encouraging to hear. They came for round 1, too, and I am sure they will come today to support me.”
It’s a sentiment Rohan Bopanna echoed when Sportskeeda spoke to him last month; Indians in the United States have shown immense support to the tennis players participating in tournaments there, and that moral support can be key in helping a player go the extra mile. Although Yadlapalli saw an exit in the girls’ doubles main draw, her singles jaunt is going strong.
Who does she support? “I think Kerber will win,” she says. Angelique Kerber, with emphatic wins at the US Open, is in the semi-finals and yet to drop a single set. Serena Williams is now so severely on the back foot that she will have to win the title to retain her World No. 1 title.
Kerber, who won her maiden Grand Slam title this year at the Australian Open against Serena Williams, lost to the World No. 1 at Wimbledon this year, giving Williams her 22nd Grand Slam title – the highest in the Open Era, a record she now jointly holds with German legend Steffi Graf.
“It will be nice,” she says, “to have a new No. 1. It has been so long since a new player was World No. 1.”
It has indeed. Serena Williams has now held the World No. 1 title for 186 consecutive weeks – the longest streak as World No. 1 in the Open Era. A ‘long time’ may not even begin to cover Serena Williams’ near-absolute reign. But Williams is in form, too, and Caroline Wozniacki could even pull off an Angie Kerber upset, mixing things up a bit for the women’s singles.
“Kerber is in such great form, I hope she will win it.”
And what about the men’s singles? Although a staunch Federer fan, Yadlapalli thinks 2009 US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro could pull this off. “He has come back so good (sic) from being a wild card,” she says, “and he won silver at the Olympics, he beat Djokovic there already. Why can’t he beat him here either?”
American teenager Alexandra Sanford, up next today for Yadlapalli, is not a new opponent, although the two have not played each other on the professional circuit yet. “So we haven’t actually played ‘matches’ against each other, but we have hit with each other on court before, and now, and I could win this,” she says, emphatically.
New York City is a tourist hub – so has the young tennis champion had a chance to partake in the sights and sounds of the Big Apple? “Not really,” she says. “There’s so much training, so much exercise, mostly if there is rest I just sit in the room, watch TV, read.” Just the things a teenager back home would do.
Except this teenager is in contention for a juniors Grand Slam title and well on her way there.