The temperature is 43 degrees at the RK Khanna Tennis stadium at RK Puram. The humidity was uncomfortable. Yet, in the April heat of Delhi, two young boys were battling it out in the final of a tennis tournament. This was no ordinary tournament. It was the final of the 2019 French Open junior wild card tennis tournament. The grand prize was a trip to Roland Garros where they could play in the French Open. The two young players from Gujarat, Mann Maulik Shah and Madhwin Kamath battled hard. In the end, Mann Maulik Shah secured a 7-6(1), 6-2 over Kamath and secured the ticket to Paris. There was an added bonus in Mann Maulik Shah’s win. The prize was gifted by none other than Justine Henin, a seven-time grand slam champion and a four-time French Open winner.
After the end of this gruelling battle, Mann Maulik Shah was content. He had satisfied his mother and teacher’s dream. During an exclusive chat with News Nation, Mann Maulik Shah revealed that he did not actually plan to take up tennis and that he was put in the sport for one reason: To control his naughtiness.
“I was in second grade. I was notorious. Full of energy. My teacher, Sonia Bhatia, was concerned this boy is going to go mad. She told my mother to put me in some sport. My mother thought for a while and put me in tennis. Credit goes to my Sonia ma’am for channelling my energy in the right direction. I still remember, in the second grade, "bahut tangh kiya tha maine unko poora saal."
All the energy during his second grade led the 18-year-old led him to a date in the final against Kamath and the 6’6” player had to overcome plenty of odds to secure this win. The youngster revealed that as a tall player, the clay court is incredibly challenging. “As a tall player, the toughest challenge I face is on a clay court. We tall players have weak fitness levels. We have to run around a lot continuously for three-four hours,” Mann Maulik Shah said.
When asked about the heat factor, the Ahmedabad youngster brushed it aside by stating this was not a factor. “Have you been to Melbourne (Australian Open) in January where it can become hot? This is nothing in front of that. Two weeks back, I was in Malaysia. The weather was 48 degrees with 72 per cent humidity. Here, it is 20 per cent. I got good practice in Malaysia,” Mann Maulik Shah said.
Indian Tennis bright, John Isner is God
With the youngster having a tall frame, it is obvious that he would idolize tall tennis stars. When asked who his favourite star was, he beamed USA player John Isner, the No.9 ranked tennis player in the world. “Isner is my favourite. I saw him in the US Open when I had gone there. I saw him practising and I saw his serve. His second serve is quicker than my first serve. He is the GOD of serve,” Mann Maulik Shah said.
When asked about the current state of Indian Tennis, Mann Maulik Shah said the future is looking bright. “Indian Tennis is on the rise. It is currently the hub in Asia. We can beat the Chinese players, which was not possible five years ago. It seemed impossible. We are beating Central Asian countries, Taiwan, Japan,” Mann Maulik Shah said.