“I started playing at 7. Tennis has had my attention ever since” – 17yo Saheb Sodhi

One could call Saheb Sodhi a late bloomer, given he rose to the top rungs in Indian junior tennis only at age 17. Armed with a big serve and forehand that work at the back of easy power he tends to generate, Sodhi has moved to 108 in the latest ITF Junior Rankings and has a decent shot at competing in the remaining Grand Slams this year – French Open, Wimbledon, and US Open.

Saheb talks about how he got into Tennis, his journey so far, his plans for the future, etc.

PS – Watch out for a fun rapid fire at the end. 

Saheb Sodhi in action at the ITF J2 Kolkata in January, 2022

Q) How did you get into Tennis and when did you realise you wanna pursue it seriously?

Let’s say Under-14 AITA. I started playing Tennis as a hobby when I was 7. Tennis has had my attention ever since. I played my first tournament in Under-10 and I really loved the competitiveness of the game. I got pretty serious about it after Under-14. I got into the Top 16 in India and played the Road To Wimbledon (RTW) series. Under-16 went well. But then covid hit.

Q) Who did you learn your tennis from growing up?

I was in Mumbai for 7 years in one academy, where I was training under Babu Mallaya Sir and Supriya Mallaya. But I shifted to Pune to train with Kedar (Shah) Sir in August 2021. Now I am based in Pune.

Q) You started doing really well in 2021. You weren’t really at the top before that. Where were you?

Honestly, at the start of 2021, I had no national ranking in Under-18 and no ITF ranking either. There were a few ITF Juniors in India, but to be able to play those I needed a national Under-18 ranking. So in order to get a rank, I started playing a few local AITA CS (Championship Series) events. I won a couple of them, which got me a qualifying wildcard at ITF J4 in Chandigarh in March. I qualified in and made my first points over there.

I played a total of just 8 tournaments last year, all of them in India. That was because we couldn’t go out without vaccination and without a visa. It was a rollercoaster. I had trained with Kedar Sir for just a month before playing the Chennai Nationals, and I made the final. 

Saheb with the runners up trophy at 2021 Chennai Nationals

Q) You made the finals at the Asian Junior Championships in Pune. How did that feel?

It was super tough. I played against Tanapatt (Nidudorn) in the 1st round, the guy I had lost to in the previous week. I also beat Nishant (Dabas) and Denim (Yadav). My whole arm was messed up as well. Fully taped. Luckily I was in Pune so I had my own physio there. That helped me a lot. 

Q) Could you take us through the three weeks of ITF Juniors events in India?

I played the J3 in Chandigarh two weeks back. Then I felt unwell before the 2nd week. So I decided to prioritize my health and skip the 2nd week. I felt better towards the end of the week and decided to play the J2 in Kolkata. But I was really sore the first few matches, as I barely had any physical activity in the preceding days. But the physios really helped me out.

Q) You will be ranked around 100 courtesy of your good performances. What is your plan for the next few months?

I was ranked over 1000 before the Asian Junior Championships in Pune. So there was absolutely no vision of playing a Grand Slam. My ranking just jumped after that event. Then discussed the possibility with my coach. Then the plan was to do well in these 3 weeks of Juniors events in India. Now the vision’s completely changed. It’s more tennis focused. Kedar Sir’s academy has clay courts. So I will train there for the French Open.

Saheb Sodhi at ITF J2 Kolkata (Photos – Devang Bhandari)

Q) You’re 17 now. It’s your last year in Juniors. What are your transition plans to the mens circuit?

Like I said, there was no rank and no vision for a very long time. I did aspire to go pro. I am thinking about the short term as of now. I will sit and discuss it with my coach in due course.

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

That’s a tricky question. If I tell you, it might help other players when they play against me (laughs)

Q) What are a few things you are working on with Kedar Shah?

We started off with weight training. Two years ago, I was in 10th ICSE Science. Then covid hit and gyms were shut. So working on that helped increase my power. We were practicing on clay for the Chennai Nationals, so that helped me improve my movement as well. So these things amplified and helped my game.

Rapid Fire

Favorite CityMumbai
Favorite SurfaceHard, cause it’s fast
Favorite Cheat MealI am a foodie. I can eat anything
Favorite Grand SlamWhichever I win in the future
Favorite Non-Tennis PersonalityAkshay Kumar
Favorite ShotServe
Song you’re listening to nowA song from Om Shanti Om
Who’s the GOATFederer anyday
Dream Mixed Doubles PartnerCoco Gauff

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