Interview with Indian U14 No.1 – Sanjana Sirimalla

Sanjana Sirimalla, the Indian U14 No.1, has slowly but surely emerged on the Indian Tennis Junior Circuit over the past couple of years. With numerous State and National titles in her kitty, Sanjana has already represented India in the International Events like the Asian Junior Championships.

While still being just 13 yrs old, Sanjana has already reached ITF Grade V finals in singles, which bodes well for the future ahead. ITD caught up with her while she was representing India at the WTA Future Stars event in Singapore.

Sanjana gives us a peek into her tennis journey so far in this interview by Surya Raj.

Journey into tennis

My brother used to play Tennis. My parents were interested in sports as well and they wanted to make me a sportsperson. As I followed my brother while he played Tennis, my interest in the sport grew and it started from there.

Initial set of tourneys. When did you pursue it seriously.

When I played my first set of events itself, I wanted to pursue it seriously. I won the first tourney that I played in, the confidence grew from there and I continued taking it forward.

You are the Winner of the Road To Wimbledon event in India. It is a Grass Court event. How did you prepare and also take us through your journey during the tourney.

My Coach Sanjay Sir told me that whatever be the surface, I should be mentally be prepared and strong enough to handle it. I should be confident in my abilities. We knew that playing on Grass would mean the ball would skid and stay low, so I have stay low myself.  

Before the tourney started, we had a day to practice on grass but I did not feel good about my play. However in my first round match, I started to play well and gained confidence. I continued on that momentum and was able to progress till the end.

Video by the Wimbledon team on Sanjana Sirimalla

Experience of playing at Wimbledon

The trip was a great experience. I could see London. I had the opportunity to see the Wimbledon courts. I was able to play against new players and players from the UK too. It was tough playing against them but I was also able to beat them, it was a good experience overall.

Sanjana Sirimalla with Tim Henman. Photo credits: Sanjana Sirimalla Facebook Page

You have been training at the Sun-Jay Tennis Academy in Hyderabad. Role of Mr. Sanjay Kumar on your career so far? What are your regular training routines like?

Sanjay sir has played the biggest role in me reaching till this stage. I have couple of hours of training every morning – sometimes in a group and other times directly with Sanjay Sir in a 1:1 setting. Overall, I practice for about 3-4 hours per day.

Photo credits: The Hindu

You have won more than 50 titles in your young career so far. Which is the title that you cherish the most?

Wimbledon event was a big moment for me even though it was a runners-up. In terms of the titles I won, I would say the Masters series event.

Sanjana Sirimalla after the TSTA Masters Series event. Photo credits: Deccan Chronicle

In your 3rd ITF event itself, as a 13-year old, you reached the ITF Grade V finals in Sri Lanka this year. How was that experience like. Can you take us through that tourney.

It was my 3rd event as you said. When I reached the venue, I could see the players practising over there and I felt confident about my ability, that I could beat these players. I went with the same confidence into every match. In the semis, I was 1-set and 2-4 down, but I kept my spirits high and then was able to win all the games to win the match 6-4 6-0 in the 2nd and 3rd set respectively.

It was overall a good experience. I also reached the doubles semis there. I played well and it was a lucky tournament for me.

Sanjana Sirimalla with the finalist medal. Photo credits: Sanjana Sirimalla Facebook Page

Your fitness coach Mr. Naidu. What are the diet plans and fitness routines that you follow & any note on the role played by him so far.

He is a really great person. He really cares for me a lot. He wants me to be disciplined, I go for fitness training at 5.30 AM. He is pretty strict about punctuality and doesn’t allow us if we are late. He has been a great influence on me.

Sanjana Sirimalla with her fitness coach – Mr Naidu from Naidu Nfit Academy

As you had qualified for the WTA Future Stars in Singapore. Any special preparation that you had done for this tourney?

I had a tourney in Delhi before this event, so I didn’t get much practice time. However the experience of the last 4 years was there and so I felt confident about my run-up for this event.

You represented India for the first time at the World Junior Championships playing under Rushmi Chakravarthy as the coach. How do you view that tourney and any advice that you had receive from Rushmi that sticks in your mind?

I was a little nervous. I wasn’t feeling well also, I didn’t do great in the first couple of matches. However, Rushmi ma’am was very supportive and encouraged us. She guided us a lot on the match preparation and tactics.

Even on the return flight, my seat was beside her. She generally encouraged me to focus more on my volleys and interceptions and that if I keep working hard, I will have a good future in the game.

Sanjana Sirimalla with the Indian team and Coach at the World Junior Championships

Then the next tourney in Bangkok where India finished first in the ITF Asia Oceana Division 1 Championship. Your coach was Mr. Narendra Nath. India finished first there. Any memorable memories from there?

Overall I finished at about 7th or 8th place out of 64 participants. In the second week, I reached the quarters. It was a high profile event.

Mr Narendra sir was very supportive and guided us through-out. We supported each other as a team. It was another one of those memorable events representing my country.

Sanjana Sirimalla with the team and coach. Photo credits: Sanjana Sirimalla Facebook page

Here in Singapore, you won 4 matches before the loss against the Aussie girl – Charlotte KEMPENAERS-POCZ. How do you assess the match from your perspective?

My game is based on attack. It really worked against the first 4 girls. However, against the Australian, I could have mixed my game up a bit. I realized and changed it a bit in the end, but it was already too late. However, it was a good experience and if I get an opportunity to play her again, I can hopefully give her a more tougher fight and possibly win. It was overall a good tourney though.

You are the No.1 in India in your age group, recently awarded the most promising sportsperson by Telangana Sports Journalists Association. How is the feeling? Must have been a satisfying journey so far.

The journey has just started, it has only been 1% so far. I aim to reach the world tennis stage and receive accolades there. I am very grateful for the TSJA for this award though. Hope I can live up to their expectations.

For people who have not seen your game. What do you call out as your strengths and areas to improve in your game.

I am confident and strong mentally. I am confident about my game and don’t get overawed by any opponent as much. I am an attacking player.

I have to improve on all facets of my game. I am right now focusing on my serve and stamina.

Sanjana Sirimalla with Somdev Devvarman. Photo credits: Sanjana Sirimalla Facebook page

Tennis is a very expensive sport. Any support that you have received from the state govt or sponsors so far?

Karvy Group sponsored me for the Wimbledon event and support me in general. No support from the Govt yet.

Plans/Goals for the next year or two vis-a-vis your tennis career.

Next target is the ITF Jr tour.

Rapid fire

HobbiesMy life revolves Tennis and Tennis related hobbies!
Favourite cuisine and food itemPaneer Paratha
Favourite tourney amongst the ones you have played so farWimbledon
Favourite travel destination (in India or outside) amongst the ones you traveled to.Singapore
A place that you haven’t been to and would like to visit? USA
Favourite celebrity (Telugu or Tamil or any other)Roger Federer
Best win of your careerITF title
A loss that hurt you the most and whyWTA Future Stars loss

Photos from Sanjana Sirimalla’s participation at WTA Future Stars

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