“This is just the start” – Shruti Ahlawat, the 14yo who won back to back ITF titles on debut

14 year old Shruti Ahlawat achieved a very rare feat when she came in as a qualifier and won back to back ITF Juniors events, without dropping a set. She won 13 matches in 14 days to complete this miraculous achievement

We caught up with Shruti to get insights on her tennis journey so far, plans for the future, experience of hitting with the reigning Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin, and much more –

Q) When did you start playing tennis? How did you get into the sport?

My grandfather was a wrestler. He wanted me to wrestle too. But then people told us that Tennis is a sport that can be tried out too

So I started playing in school & kept getting better. I had interest in the sport from the start, and liked it when I started playing. Slowly, this sport became my everything!

Young Shruti over the years

Q) Who was your first coach and when did you start liking the game?

My first coach was Sukhbir Sir at Maxfort School in Rohini, New Delhi. He taught me the basics. Once my aspirations started getting higher, he himself referred me to a coach – Amit Tilak Sir from Lucknow, who used to train students on clay courts in Paschim Vihar. I played under him for 2 years.

In fact, I was so dedicated to the coach that me and my grandfather shifted to Lucknow when I was 9, since Amit Sir was based in Lucknow

Q) How do you manage education with tennis?

I never attended school as I had taken prior permission. I used to take tuitions, attain passing marks – and be done with it. My family is really supportive too, they support me in my tennis journey in all ways possible

Shruti cracking a backhand

Q) What are things you like about tennis and what are things that you don’t like?

The good thing about tennis is that it helps my mind feel relaxed. Moreover, it’s not like someone is forcing me to play. I play the sport because I enjoy playing it. It’s my grandfather’s dream that I become number one in the world, and mine too

There are no bad things as such. It’s just that I feel bad when I lose and start questioning myself about why it may have happened. But the effort is always towards getting better each day

Q) These were your first two ITF Juniors event. Coming in as a 14yo qualifier, you went on to win the two titles without dropping a set, which is a very rare achievement. Did you expect to perform like this? Also, how did it feel?

The preparations were in place. Expectations, not so much. We were taking it match by match – be it my coach, my grandfather, or myself. My current coach, Mr. Pundreek Chaturvedi, and my grandfather supported me a lot during the tournaments. I gained a lot of confidence after winning the title in the first week, and then took it step by step in the second week as well

But this is just the start. If I feel content now, how will I achieve the goals that I have set out for myself?

Footage from Shruti’s historic run during her debut ITF Juniors events

Q) You finished 2nd in the Asia-Oceania Qualifying for the Les Petit U14 tourney in Bali in 2019. How was that experience? How was your experience in France during the main tournament?

The Bali experience was great. The weather was different, courts were different, balls were different – and I got to play against different kinds of players. I had really tough matches too, so it was a lot of fun. In fact, I got to hit with the reigning Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin for a bit, which was a great experience

My performance in France was not so great because I was mentally disturbed, as I had just parted ways with coach Saurabh Sharma, and my game was undergoing tactical changes too. But these things happen

Shruti in Bali during the Asian Playoffs of Les Petit U14 event

Q) Coach Namita Bal had spoken highly about your game back then, saying “Shruti is easily the most versatile player in her age group in the country” – your thoughts on her comments?

Namita Ma’am has been supportive of me from the start. She is a great coach and has always advised me to focus on my fitness. She has good thoughts for everyone, and is a really nice human being as well

Q) Which coach/academy do you work with currently?

My head coach is Mr. Pundreek Chaturvedi. He’s from Jaipur but stays in Delhi. He sets my training program and everything. His brother is in Germany. He runs an academy called Elite Academy in Gurgaon. I have a fitness trainer and dietician helping me as well

Shruti with her coach Mr. Pundreek Chaturvedi

Q) What do you think are strengths/weaknesses in your game?

Strengths would be that I have the right mix of control and aggression in my game, and also my groundstrokes

Weakness would be that I sometimes get angry when I’m losing and start feeling hopeless. So I need to work on my mental toughness moving forward

Q) Are you financially supported by the government/private firm or individual?

I have no financial support. I have Head as my racket sponsor. That’s all. All my expenses are taken care of by my family itself

But my family is so supportive that they never let me feel the pressure of it. I always get things I want without even having to ask for them. But the hope is that I find a sponsor soon

Q) What is your goal for 2021 and what is your long-term goal in Tennis?

I want to crack the top 100 in ITF Juniors this year so that I can play the Junior Grand Slams next year, starting with the Australian Open

Long term goal is to win a Grand Slam for India. My favorite Grand Slam is the Australian Open – as I have a special attachment to the event for some reason. The courts, the weather, the atmosphere – it’s something special and I make sure to never miss a match

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