***Raheel Manji is a special kid. Good at school, polite, thankful he now is a National Singles Champion. He is respected by ACE coaches and players for his uncompromising approach to his development. We thought sharing his past few months’ experience, which culminated in him winning the U16 Canadian Indoor, would provide insight to parents and players of the approach that is needed to succeed***
I made the move to ACE Tennis Academy in February. It was a big decision because I had trained in Pickering my whole life with Irfan Shamasdin, Aly Zaver, Dave Ochotta, Allan Care, my dad and brother. However a lot of my training partners had to make decisions on starting their lives and I was not able to receive the training I wanted no more.
The reason I chose ACE was because I knew it would provide me with the right resources and environment to help me improve as much as I can. Pierre Lamarche was a big reason for my move. It really stood out how much he cared for my game even when I was not one of his players. With the support of my family and friends I left Pickering to live in Burlington with Doug Burke [ACE President] at the ACE house. The first week I was there I was extremely grateful to have the opportunity to train with so many resources, something I was not used to. I sat down with Pierre, Doug and Clement and discussed my goals, one of them being to win the Nationals. I believe that they knew I was going to give 100% and I had faith in the program and the coaches and that I would receive 100% out of it, which I have. I was off rolling and we knew I would need to make a lot of technical changes and keep the work ethic from Pickering and apply it to my training in Burlington.
I train every morning on specific points in my game 7-9 am with Doug and Pierre watching over. I then train in more competitive situations from 2-4:30 where you apply the skills from the specific training into competitive activities. After the afternoon training session I do fitness and recovery from 4:45 to 6:30 with a program made for me by Clement Golliet which is extremely important. I love the fitness program I have because Clement really put a lot of thought into what I need to work on and apply to my tennis. I have four coaches who I mainly work with but also get help from all the other coaches. I could not have asked for anything better. Doug has the ability to stay calm and quiet but when he talks it will mean something and is usually something wise. Then there is Pierre’s ability to motivate and get in your face really allowing your abilities to come out under pressure. Mike’s ability to keep the hard work taking place and create an intense atmosphere is something I really like. Finally there is Clement who I can rely on with any questions related to off court training, along with his work ethic and passion he brings to his job.
I refused to miss any practices even if they were optional because I loved the training so much and every session had a positive influence on my improvement. I have the training partners I need, whether it is top juniors or the coaches and that is really important. I try to make my training as tough, intense and beneficial as it can possibly be. Through this, I prepared for Nationals very well and wanted to play two Canadian futures to test out my match play. I loved that there was always a coach at your tournaments and I learned a lot playing those tournaments. It was time for Nationals and I wanted to cut out all distractions, prepare as best as I could and worked towards staying relaxed with some of the mental strategies given by Dr. Sue Wilson.
We left Thursday morning with a team of eight and Mike Hall as our coach. We got to Verdun, Quebec in the afternoon and got a feel for the courts. Immediately I felt the advantages of having an ACE team with me at Nationals. I knew we would all support each other to do the best we could. Before the team event started Mike sat the players from ACE down and we discussed the approaches we needed to take into this tournament. I played for the winning team in the team event and did not drop a match along with beating the number one seed in a singles match against Alberta in three sets, I was feeling good. We won the gold medal match which was great but I knew it was time to focus on the upcoming draw.
It was day one of the singles tournament; I had a bye in the first round because I was the third seed. I played a rocky first match winning 3-6, 6-0, 6-1. I was very tight in that first set to start the tournament but I knew I was going to come back. After my match I reflected with Mike and knew I needed to play smarter and looser. In the round of 16 I played better, I was free, in control, served well and did not feel too threatened. Before the match, Mike, without telling me, was helping me distract myself, from overanalyzing and I knew it. I was in the quarters set to face my doubles partner who I have played many times before. I did not feel very nervous before or during the match. I was playing smart and felt confident in my ability. I won 6-4, 6-2 and advanced into the semifinals of singles and doubles now after two wins. I had a day break so I visualized, worked on my breathing, went through my daily routines and superstitions to be ready for the semi finals the next day.
I remember feeling very tight in my semi final match. I was playing a new opponent who I knew was good, so I wanted to test him out. I went down 5-2 in the first set and needed a momentum change, which is what I got, winning 7-5, 6-0. Dylan Bednarczyk and I then won the doubles tournament in the afternoon 6-3 6-3, winning our second national doubles title as the second seeded team. After the match I reflected on what I wanted to improve for the finals of singles tomorrow. That night I called my coaches and family and all of them were rooting for me and were very inspirational. I tried to do everything exactly the same as I had been the whole tournament in terms of preparation. I thought back to when I was in the finals of Nationals under 14 and after winning the first having to retire because of back pain in the third. I was crushed that tournament emotionally and was grateful that I would have the opportunity to play this finals healthy and ready. I was nervous but relaxed for the finals. I had all the support I needed and had prepared as well as I could and now all I needed to do was fight for the finals against the number one seed. I was alone in the locker room for 90 minutes getting into a zone and visualizing how I want to play.
I started the match extremely well, returning serve and working each point. After winning the first set 6-1, I tried to continue the second just as I finished the first set. Harrison Scott from Alberta, and I had some extremely good games and points and I won a key game at 3-2 breaking him and then holding, putting myself into a position where I was up 5-2. I looked towards Mike and he appeared as relaxed as I felt. I knew I was playing well. Harrison held to make it 5-3. I hit a wide serve and then a forehand winner to go up 15-0 then I hit an ace for 30-0, he made an error in after a 12 ball rally for me to go up 40-0. On match point I was in the back of the court focusing on the task at hand and I did not feel the tightness I had expected to feel serving for the match. I looked over at Mike and got a nod signifying for me to focus and get this point. I hit a first serve and we got into a ten ball rally where I was hitting pretty well, I went to his forehand and he missed it long. I felt to the ground happy to have won my first Nationals because I knew how much this meant to me and how hard I trained for it. It was a thrill and a great tournament which was run extremely well. Now I will get ready to play for Canada in the Junior Davis Cup held in Montreal which will be another great experience I am sure.