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Starting out as a skater, Chandigarh boy Rishabh Sharda now one step closer to playing at the French Open

Sharda will now have to fight it out in New Delhi to get a chance to go to Paris.

Rishabh Sharda
Rishabh Sharda in action at Kolkata leg of the Rendez-Vous A Roland Garros

Skating's loss is tennis' gain. Chandigarh boy Rishabh Sharda could have been gleefully gliding around as a skater by now. Instead he might be sliding on the revered red clay of the Roland Garros in Paris in a few weeks' time if he can produce the same tenacity that helped him eke out a 6-7(2), 6-0, 7-6(5) win over the top seed Parikshit Somani in a cliffhanger of a match that lasted over 2.5 hours.

The win made the 16-year-old the u-18 champion in the Kolkata leg of the Rendez-Vous A Roland Garros - BTA - AITA National Series Tennis Tournament 2017 that was being held at the Dakshin Kalikata Sansad (DKS) till March 25.

He wouldn’t even have been a part of this competition had it not been for a fortuitous meeting with a junior tennis coach at a tournament he participated in during his early days as a skater. His tremendous footwork caught his attention and very soon the seven-year-old Sharda traded his skating shoes for a tennis racquet.

The passion that he found for the new sport never deserted him. It only made him strive harder to become better and hungrier. Under the tutelage of the coach who injected the tennis bug in him and with constant support from his father, Sharda soon grew up to be one of the most promising juniors in the country.

The DKS courts got to witness the vast range of his talent on Saturday.

Clay tests the fitness, stamina and character of a player like no other. And the second-seeded Sharda was put under the sternest of tests by the surface and he showed he was up for the challenge. The 12th standard student of St John’s High School, Chandigarh, admitted later on that he expected nothing less than the gruelling battle that he and Somani fought out.

They did cross swords a couple of years back and, interestingly, even that match had gone the distance which Parikshit won. That experience surely prepped him for their latest showdown where the advantage kept going back and forth between the two right from the start.

The World No. 285 Sharda was the one in control of the opening set until he squandered the lead and the set to a surging Somani. After levelling the match, the second seed once more built an early lead of 5-2 only to see Somani erasing the deficit and forcing a tie-break yet again.

Unlike the first set, this time he did not repeat the same mistakes. Much like his idol Novak Djokovic, he found that extra mental strength to push through the finish line that had the motley group of spectators breaking into a thunderous applause.

He now needs to win the final culmination of this tournament in New Delhi in April and if he does emerge as the victor, he will get a lucrative opportunity to go to Paris and play the final qualifying event with winners from selected few countries for a coveted berth at the Roland Garros juniors.

This might be only the start but Rishabh already has a plan in place to further his tennis career. Avoiding the sponsorship hassles that one faces in India, the Chandigarh resident will be looking to get into the US College system to pursue his ambition à la the just-retired former India No. 1 Somdev Devvarman.

Bengal’s Yubarani Banerjee wins the girls’ crown

The women’s singles final, in contrast, was dominated from start to finish by the local girl Yubarani Banerjee. The third seed hardly broke a sweat and easily swatted aside the fourth-seeded Pratibha Prasad Narayan, 6-3, 6-4. A diehard Serena Williams fan, she never allowed her opponent to settle into the match on her favourite surface.

For the 16-year-old student of St Peter’s High School, Kolkata, playing at the Roland Garros is a dream and she would self-admittedly do anything to achieve it.

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