India had a total representation of 10 players at this year’s Australian Open, of which six were entered in the men’s field. Of the remaining four players, Sania Mirza remained the sole Indian player in the women’s doubles draw. The three remaining contenders were, meanwhile, fielded in the junior girls’ draw – in singles as well as doubles – which ensured that there was all-round participation in the first Major of the year.
The relatively increased concentration of names in the junior girls’ section also meant a shift in the spotlight towards the entrants, whose names seldom get a mention during the course of the year.
In a bid to rectify this inexplicable oversight, here’s then a quick delving into the country’s five top-ranked junior girls:
Zeel Desai: ITF Rank 31
Back in November 2016, after the (then) 17-year-old had won the singles title in the ITF junior tournament she had mentioned to Scroll.in that her goal was to start the 2017 season strongly, and to do particularly well at the Australian Open. And, she has fulfilled both of these objectives substantially, first reaching the final of the ITF Grade 2 junior event in New Delhi in January and then by making it to the quarter-final of the Australian Open juniors, a result in a Major that had never been accomplished by an Indian junior girl before.
Desai’s WTA ranking also peaked inside the top-1000 in the first week of February this year at the 851st place, though this week she has dropped three places to the 854th spot. Considering that this is Desai’s last season on the junior Tour, she will want to finish off ceremoniously which, in turn, will be a pivotal stepping stone for her in the other side of tennis’ spectrum.
Mahak Jain: ITF Rank 54
A member of the Indian junior Fed Cup squad that contested the World Group finals in Hungary in September 2016, the 15-year-old is the youngest among the country’s top-five junior girls in the tennis circuit.
Although, Jain had broken into the top-50 of the ITF ranking along with Desai during the Australian Open fortnight, she slipped ever-so slightly and currently sits just outside the top-50. The fluctuations in her ranking aside, Jain has still had a promising start to her 2017 season as well, with a title run against Desai in the ITF tourney in January, in New Delhi.
Likewise, despite her Australian Open campaign ending in first round exits in both girls’ singles and doubles, Jain set a meritorious precedent, by winning the 2015 edition of the Road to Wimbledon singles title, which justifiably brought in a wave of expectations about the youngster’s potential vis-à-vis replenishing the coffers of Indian tennis’ future.
Mihika Yadav: ITF Rank 91
The last Indian junior girl in the top-100, the 17-year-old completed the troika of Indian participants in the girls’ roster in Melbourne Park. Having entered in the singles and doubles draw, Yadav had a disappointing outing in doubles, losing in the first round itself. She fared slightly better in singles, proceeding to the second round, before crashing out to eventual quarter-finalist, Mai Hontama of Japan.
This will be Yadav’s last year on the junior tennis circle – since she will turn 18 in November – and the teenager, who is currently ranked 874th in the WTA ranking, will be eager to have a fruitful changeover to the senior Tour.
Akanksha A Bhan: ITF Rank 146
The 16-year-old Bhan took up the sport, nearly a decade ago, at the age of seven, and is steadily setting the course of a promising future in the sport. Bhan played three ITF junior tournaments this year and had consistent results across all of them, with her best result coming in the Grade 3 tournament held in Kolkata in January, in which she reached the final.
Her good showing helped her rise to the 137th place in the ITF standings when they were updated in the succeeding week, but presently, Bhan is bracketed a few places inside the top-150. When she resumes her season, she will thus want to improve on her ranking and even try to breakthrough into the top-100.
Pranjala Yadlapalli: ITF Rank 163
Once ranked as high as 15th in the ITF placing, Yadlapalli has ventured to the south of the top-150, long leaving behind the realms of the top-50 and top-100. At about the same time, the (then) 16-year-old made it to the pre-quarter-finals of the junior Australian Open, which proclaimed her as an immediate heir to usher in glory days for Indian women’s tennis.
The promise of Yadlapalli living up to these expectations, in spite of her absence (so far) from tennis action, is still unshakeable. Even as there is reconciling with the fact that she has quite an uphill climb in front of her, in trying to bring her eventful junior career to a memorable end in her final year before making a seamless transition into the mainstream women’s Tour.