Meet Pranjala Yadlapalli, the girl who could inherit Sania Mirza's Indian women's tennis throne
Sania Mirza’s current 32-match unbeaten run has seen her create headlines for Indian women’s tennis around the world. Currently ranked world number one in the WTA Women’s doubles rankings, the 29-year old has become a consistent performer at the upper echelons of the sport’s hierarchy.
In her tenure as Indian women’s tennis’ brightest prospect, she has received negligible competition, both at the junior and senior level. However, a 17-year old from Andhra Pradesh is set to challenge her era of dominance.
Pranjala Yadlapalli, might not be a household name in India, but 114 national ranking titles have clearly highlighted her credentials as one of the world’s best junior players. Currently ranked 16th in the ITTF world junior rankings, Pranjala shocked the tennis fraternity last year, after winning the future Stars tournament at the WTA Finals in Singapore.
114 national tournament victories and comparisons to Sania Mirza
She won the U-16 singles title by defeating the best junior players from around the world, in convincing fashion. Speaking exclusively to Sportskeeda, she said, “I started younger than most, I first played when I was six or seven years old, my parents used to take me to play in our local courts in Guntur. Since then I’ve been hooked onto the game. For three years, I just played for fun. But it was around the age of 10 that I decided to take the sport seriously.”
A unique characteristic about Pranjala’s rise has been her ability to perform and win in a higher age category. In 2011, when she was graded in the under-14 category, she went onto win the Under-16 girls single title as well. This is a feat, which has been restricted to an elite few in India such as Mirza herself. She has won national titles since 2009, winning one national championship every year.
In 2009, she played her very first tournament in the AITA U-12 category, where she showed immense prowess, especially in her baseline play.
By 2010, she was consistently winning ranking tournaments across the country. She added, “I personally think I’m a complete baseline player, I concentrate on generating a lot power and don’t move to the net as much. I’m more comfortable on the baseline. I’m an aggressive player and relate a lot to Kim Clijsters and the way she played.”
It’s not just at the national level that she’s raising eyebrows, Pranjala has been consistently participating in junior grand-slams for the past year now. The recently concluded Australian Junior Open saw her register a quarter-final finish, her best yet. She said, “This year’s Australian Open was my best Grand Slam yet, I got to play against the best juniors, which is not possible on a regular basis. Last year, I played all four slams, but was mostly knocked out in the first or second tound in singles. The best experience for me was playing the Champions Tennis League (CTL) for Mumbai, I got to learn so much from players like Tommy Robredo.”
She has also won junior tournaments in Thailand and USA.
Speaking about her transition from the national to international circuit, she said, “There is a massive difference, the level is huge. In Guwahati, once I won six back to back tournaments in three weeks, that is not possible on the international level, it also helps in garnering more experience.”
Pranjala has been doing really well: Sania Mirza
After Sania Mirza, who reached a career high junior ranking of 10 in singles and 1 in doubles, Pranjala has been the most successful player. She reached the 15th spot last year in the ITTF rankings. Other Indians include Sunitha Rao, who reached a career high of 16 and Isha Lakhani, who was 26th for a brief period.
In fact Mirza recently acknowledged, Pranjala’s recent rise. She said, “I do follow the juniors and I keep a track of them. Pranjala has been doing very well recently, along with another junior Kamran Thandi.”
Despite such adulation, Pranjala has her feet firmly placed on the ground. She added, “I have a really long way to go and I know this is just the beginning, I am yet to turn senior, which will be very important for my career. Right now I want to play more international tournaments and garner experience, so that my transition to the Seniors is more seamless. I have my board exams in March, and I will not be playing till. However, the junior circuit starts with the nationals in Delhi on 25th March after that so I’m targeting a strong 2016.”
About half a decade ago, several concerns were raised about the dearth women’s tennis talent post Mirza in the country. However, the rise of juniors such as Pranjala Yadlapalli has ensured that the sport’s future is in safe hands.