After Sania Mirza and Saina Nehwal, Hyderabad has another sporting champion to be proud of. Pranjala Yadlapalli may be just 16 but she is already India’s top rated junior tennis player. She is currently ranked 16 in the world junior girl's rankings.
Yadalapalli was the tenth seed at the recently concluded Australian Open and she reached the third round, losing to eighth seed Anastasia Potapova. She is one of the athletes supported by the GoSports Foundation, which identifies and nurtures promising young Indian sport talents. She spoke to Scroll.in about her journey so far and what the future holds.
How did you get into tennis?
I used to play tennis since I was six years old. It was then just a hobby and I only played it for fitness purposes...you know, just to remain fit. But my coach saw my game and told my parents I had potential. And even though I played it only as a hobby, I liked playing the game. And after that, I started playing more and more tournaments and started getting better.
Who have been your role models in tennis?
I’ve been inspired by Roger Federer and Kim Clijsters. And yes, Sania Mirza has always been an inspiration. She gave me trophies when I won some tournaments. What she has done is incredible – reaching the level she has is really great. I really hope I can reach that level and maybe even do better!
We normally see singles or doubles specialists in tennis nowadays. But in playing career till now, you have been quite the exception. You’ve participated in both the singles and doubles draws and done well in both...
(Smiles) Well from the time I first started playing tennis, I loved it so much that I played both singles and doubles. I didn’t really care which format I was playing as long as I got to play tennis. And somehow I managed to succeed in both! Let’s hope I can continue the good form.
How has been your journey in terms of funding, considering that Indian athletes often have to struggle financially to fund their sporting ambitions?
Well, yes, tennis obviously is an expensive sport. My general expenses in a year can be anything between approximately Rs 20 lakhs-Rs 30 lakhs and that does not include training costs. The rackets themselves can be very expensive – I earlier would play tournaments with only two rackets.
However I count myself lucky that I’ve received and continue to receive help from various quarters. My first coach, Sunjay Sir from the Sunjay Tennis Academy in Hyderabad would only charge Rs 3,000 per month from me. Later, the GVK Group, who had sponsored Sania Mirza at an early stage of her career, were also impressed with my tennis and decided to provide financial aid.
How have been the training facilities you’ve encountered in India, compared to abroad?
I would not say that the training in India is bad as such – the only problem I face is the lack of good hitting partners. So, as an example, if I get to practice only one or two rallies during training, it gets very difficult to go to a Grand Slam and play ten or 15 rallies.
I recently went to the IMG Academy in New York to train for two months and I was blown away. The atmosphere is different when you train there because the facilities are so good – the gyms are wonderful. Everything is one place so you don’t need to go anywhere else. Comparatively in India, I have to go the gym first and then to my training ground, so a lot of time gets wasted in just going from place to place.
What plans for 2016?
Well I reached the third round of the Australian Open....and it was a tough game. I did have my chances but couldn’t hold on to some crucial points!
I’m currently in 12th standard so I will be giving my board exams now. After that, I probably will be going to train abroad once. I’ve already turned professional so I plan to focus on the women’s tournaments this year and also play some of the top junior tournaments. And the quest is obviously to play well at these tournaments and become even better!