Fuelling their dreams with passion, hard work

Tennis: Karnataka lads B R Nikshep and Vasisht Cheruku have been climbing steadily up the ranks, with impressive performances

Fuelling their dreams with passion, hard work

It was the late American basketball player John Wooden who once said, "Winning takes talent; to repeat takes character". Tracing the journey of two of the most promising young tennis players of the country — BR Nikshep and Vasisht Vinod Cheruku — it is perhaps easy to draw the conclusion that their rise to the top has been a nice blend of talent and character.

Apart from their unceasing passion for tennis, Nikshep and Vasisht have lot of things in common. Hailing from Karnataka, the youngsters began their love affair with tennis at the age of seven. Like many emerging tennis players across the world, they adore the Swiss great Roger Federer. Ask them what is the key to their consistent success and they are quick to reply that remaining fit and training hard provided them results to cherish.

With 2014 nearing its end, the two can look back at a year to remember. Nikshep held the number one ranking in under-16 singles in the country and was ranked second in under-18 till May before making way for Vasisht, who is now the India No 1 under-16 singles player and No 2 in under-18.

It is time to set the bar higher for the duo, whose journey was anything but planned at the start. “I was seven years old when I first came across the French Open on television and immediately fell in love with the game,” says Nikshep, a two-time Junior Davis Cupper (Malaysia 2014 and South Korea 2013). He was also lucky that his parents encouraged his foray into the game.

Playing the game on a regular basis with his friends early in his childhood triggered the passion for Vasisht. “I started playing for the fun element of it and it was my first coach Nagaraj who spotted the talent in me,” he says.

After entering the national scene, both the players have grabbed the chances that have come their way. Nikshep's international achievements include a gold medal performance in the Asian Team Championship (U-14), Doha, 2011, representing the country in the World Junior Circuit in 2012 and winning the CCI ITF Junior (G4) doubles titles in December last year. Last year, Nikshep also finished finalist in the Bangladesh ITF Junior (G5) singles and doubles.

That year also proved to be a memorable one for Nikshep at the national level. In the under-18 category, he won the doubles title at the MCC Adidas Nationals in August and finished runner-up in doubles at the Fenesta National in Delhi. In the under-16 category, some of his major wins include the Fenesta AITA National Series (Delhi) singles and doubles crowns.

The 15-year old Vasisht too is quickly notching up impressive wins. He won the ITF Pakistan International junior championship this November and finished runner-up in the Nairobi International Championship in doubles in February. Vasisht also pocketed the MP Prakash Memorial AITA Championship series and emerged winner in the 20th Fenesta Open Nationals Tennis Championship beating Nikshep.

Their rise to prominence haven’t gone unnoticed. Vasisht was taken by the Bengaluru franchise Bangalore Raptors in the inaugural edition of the Champions Tennis League in November while Nikshep received the Ekalvya award this year from the Karnataka government.

Taking the tennis route at a very young age did present a lot of challenges for them. “It was a tough decision to relocate from my hometown and move to Bangalore,” says Vasisht. “I did not want to sideline education but it is important to realise your priorities at an early stage,” explains the player who has made Bangalore his home for the last two years.

After enrolling himself in National Institute of Open Schooling, Vasisht trains at SAT Sports under former Davis Cupper Prahalad Srinath. Nikshep is a first year pre-university student of Surana College, Bangalore and trains in Team Tennis in Delhi with veteran coach Aditya Sachdeva, who has trained young Indian players such as Yuki Bhambri.  “My college is very cooperative. I train in Delhi during my vacations and in seasons when there are no tournaments,” says Nikshep.

On the long road, the duo have a nice rivalry going. "I know Vasisht from our under-10 days. We have played many tournaments together," says Nikshep.

 "I still remember my match against Nikshep in my first State (U-10) tournament where I lost to him in the semifinal. I have beaten him in our last three meetings and it is always interesting facing him," says Vasisht.

Despite the early successes, the hunger to perform well and improve their games seem to push them forward. “I want to move up in the ITF ranking and reach 150, says Vasisht. For Nikshep, remaining fit and improving on his weak areas are in the priority list. “I want to keep training hard and improve my game,” he says.

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