“I tighten up a lot in the second set after winning the first” – Aryan Shah after a promising Jr US Open campaign

Indian Junior No.2 Aryan Shah qualified into the US Open Juniors singles draw with two impressive wins, and was leading by a set against ATP Top 700 Kyle Kang, but could not sustain the momentum, eventually losing in three sets.

He caught up with ITD to share his thoughts about the match. Excerpts below:

Ashish Malhotra: Obviously you won the first set. What do you think changed after that?

Aryan Shah: After the first set I took a long break. I went to the washroom. Pretty long – like 3-4 minutes. And I think this usually happens to me. If I win the first set or if I’m leading in the set, I tend to break down or just tighten up more. So that leads to – as you can see in the second set – I was a break down in the very first game….I managed to break him back. But that wasn’t me. That was just him doing mistakes. So I had nothing to do with that.

So I think he should have seen I was thinking that I was struggling, and this is a mistake. But then again at 2-2 I had pretty good chances. He was missing a lot. But I was struggling to keep the ball in the second set. And I have that thing in my head that I tend to tighten up a lot in the second set. In the past matches also – like final qualies, first set, same score 6-4. Second set – 6-0. So this is happening with me since a long time.

And second set even I took a medical. I have something with my left shin. When I was playing first round of qualies. I fell down. That didn’t hurt me at the time. Even in the second qualies. But when I stopped playing for 5-10 minutes and start to walk again it starts to ache. 

But that pain is bearable. I wouldn’t that I lost because of that pain. One thing is that again, I broke him back and I took the medical at the wrong time. I was serving 2-3 and I shouldn’t have.

Ashish Malhotra: But if you felt you needed to take it and get attended to…

Aryan Shah: No, but what happened is that it was 2-0 and I called for the medical. But, for the next changeover. I thought it would be 3-0 or 5-0. So that’s why I thought I’m losing and why shouldn’t I take a medical? I was struggling. 

Ashish Malhotra: But then you got some momentum back…

Aryan Shah: Yeah. I took the medical at 2-3. I was serving. Again – wrong timing. I wouldn’t say that I did it on purpose. I was really struggling. But that wasn’t my main aim to distract him or to slow the game.

Ashish Malhotra: But then it ended up killing your momentum a bit. 

Aryan Shah: Yeah. I didn’t expect him to play so bad (in that game). He was leading 2-0 easily and serving. I didn’t expect him to be that bad.

Ashish Malhotra: In terms of the opponent – what was the experience like playing against him? He is already top 700 in the pros. How did you feel playing against him in terms of your level? You know, forget the score and the result for a minute – just in terms of your ability to hang with him?

Aryan Shah: I first saw him at the start of the year in Australia. I don’t remember what round, I think maybe quarters or something. But he lost a pretty good player. So I saw him there and I thought he strikes a good with his forehand. He uses his forehand alot. And wisely as well. And he serves big.

And as you said, top 700. Not a bad ranking for an 18 year old in the top 700…And American of course. You’re playing in the US. American crowd. I think he was trying to be aggressive with his forehand. And I think he was struggling a bit for making winners through his forehand. He was constructing well, but he was not able to finish it out.

Ashish Malhotra: So you talked about how you feel that you often get tight in the second set. What’s the learning experience you take away from this? Is that issue of getting tight in the second set something you have been working on at Piatti? 

Aryan Shah: So this thing has stuck with me since I think I was 13 or 14. So I don’t know, I’m not able to get rid of this.

Ashish Malhotra: But is it something you’re talking to them at Piatti about? Do they have mental coaches there?

Aryan Shah: For sure. This one thing that makes a lot of difference. If it stops happening again and again, it would make a lot of changes in results.

I think I’ve lost to guys who are pretty good, who have a pretty good ranking. But it’s not them playing way too good. It’s just me not using my game up to that level. Of course they are better than me. But I wouldn’t say that they have a huge difference. There’s some minor changes I have to make. One of them is the mental part, I’d say.

Ashish Malhotra: When you talk to the mental coaches about this issue, what kind of things do they tell you? 

Aryan Shah: I think this goes away by experience. Once you overcome it in a match, then I think it will go off automatically. You don’t have control over it. You just have to be conscious, I would say.

And you don’t have to be over conscious as well. If you start thinking about that – ‘I had this previous thing, experienced this in a previous match,’ you would stick to that part in the match and you would be broke. So you have to move on. 

Today I wasn’t able to move on. I think in the final qualies I did. After losing the second set 0-6. But it was a super tie break so it could be anyone’s game. But I think this one thing hurts me a lot, because I’ve lost to a lot of top guys with this happening again and again. So it’s pissing me off.

Ashish Malhotra: And finally what’s your plan now after Juniors. Are you going pro? Or are you considering US college tennis, which is becoming an increasingly successful pathway into the pros.

Aryan Shah: So I think college tennis is not a bad idea for some people. And different colleges and universities have approached me. Pretty good ones.

But my goal and my aim since I started playing. Since 10 or 12 years old – my main aim was to become a pro. 

Yeah, like, I have come this far and I don’t think, I have come this far and if I don’t give myself a chance of going pro… 

Ashish Malhotra: Of course you can always go pro after college as well…

Aryan Shah: My main aim was to go pro.

Ashish Malhotra: Like, direct?

Aryan Shah: Direct, yeah. Because if you go to college there are two different paths (in your mind). Your mind is diverted. Your mind divides into two parts. And I wouldn’t want that. My main aim, from the beginning – I didn’t even think once of going to college. So for me, for sure I’m going pro.

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