Written by: ONcourt Staff
At only 14 years of age, Anjana Suresh of Burlington reached the Finals of the ACE U18 ITF World Ranking event last week. The slender big-hearted girl fought through three rounds of qualifying and then five main draw matches against a strong international field of players (including several National Tennis Centre players). She played solidly in the tournament but finally lost to an older and better American in the finals.
Her result is even more amazing when you consider her history. When Anjana was ten years old, she moved with her family from Scarborough to Burlington to accept a scholarship and train at the ACE Tennis Academy in Burlington with Pierre Lamarche. That year she wasn’t selected for a provincial regrouping at the National Center in Toronto, having been turned down by Tennis Canada’s NTC program for being “too small”! Lamarche told the distraught family “not to worry as she would be better than all of them.” The family became even more committed to Anjana’s development. Her mother, Sudha, worked with her daily on her footwork, her nutrition was carefully supervised and she showed significant progress. Her father, Lakshmi, had to move to Dubai in order to take a position in banking to support his family and Anjana’s tennis career. Her sister Akshaya also contributed by giving back and taking care of Anjana’s scholarship responsibilities with the Academy. It was and it remains a family affair.
The opportunity came for the family to return to India for a vacation in 2011. Anjana was awarded a scholarship from Mahesh Bhupathi to train in the F.I.S.T. academy in India with Bobby Mahal, a former Canadian junior champion and good friend of Ben Armstrong. That summer (while in her first year U14) she finished fourth at the U14 Canadian nationals and won the U14 Nationals in India. As a result she was offered to be completely taken care of financially if she played for India! In order to do this she would have to relinquish her Canadian passport, as India does not allow dual citizenship. This was an extremely difficult decision as the financial support would be welcomed, but not at the expense of losing her Canadian citizenship. So the family declined the offer. The reality is that the situation might change but it seems unfair to have that type of pressure on such a young player.
She returned to Canada and continued training at both ACE locations while being coached by Ben Armstrong, and has continued to travel and play internationally. She was the U14 Provincial champion in singles and doubles. This past summer she went to Europe to play ETA U14 events alongside the Canadian team (who were all supported by Tennis Canada) and racked up some experience and a few solid wins including beating the number one French U14 female.
This is a kid who Katy Shulaeva, the former WTA player and now head coach of the International program at ACE Toronto declares, “of all our girls Anjana is by far the best player we have in understanding what it takes to be a professional player.” Anjana’s situation really shows the deficiency of the present Canadian system as it relates to identification of talent, selecting of players and providing travel opportunities for non-selected players. Maybe the Tennis Canada coaches say she does not have the required profile? Finals of ITF at 14! What does she have to do? How do you measure her desire, heart and hard work?