This youngster has everyone scared. Mention her name and the instant reaction among contemporaries is of awe. After all, not many 13-year-olds can boast of writing national under-18 champion on their résumé.
“It felt great winning the Fenesta Open U-18 title last week," says Pranjala Yadlapalli giggling. With the national under-14 titles in singles and doubles pocketed last year, she made the semifinal of the under-16 on Thursday with a 6-3, 6-1 win over Nayanika Reddy.
Training under M Sanjay Kumar in Hyderabad since 2007, Pranjala's rise has been nothing short of meteoric. Her parents, Kishore and Madhuri, enrolled her in tennis classes to ensure the child didn't grow up with only the idiot box as her passion.
“I didn’t enjoy tennis then. But once I came to train with Sanjay sir, I began taking the game more seriously,” says the 9th standard student of Chinmaya Vidyalaya. This summer, Pranjala represented the country in the junior ITF championships (under-14) in the Philippines and Malaysia before heading to Europe for six weeks. She finished runner-up in Germany and consolation winner in the Netherlands. “Before leaving, I cried like anything. It was the second time I was travelling without my mother,” she says shyly.
Having achieved the top rank in U-12 and U-14 and pocketed various age-group titles in this short span, Pranjala has shifted her focus to the ITF juniors. She played three this year, ending runners-up in Chennai. "Next year, I will only be playing the ITFs to improve my ranking. Currently I'm ranked 717 in the ITF juniors' list, I want to improve my ranking to top 50 by next season," the curly-haired youngster said. That would ensure the Kim Clijsters fan a direct entry into the junior Grand Slams.
To improve her game, Pranjala wants to now focus on developing her fitness and service. “The serves are still weak,” she confesses, shaking her head.
The GVK Group of Industries, the company which had helped Sania Mirza during her early days, stepped in this June to fund Pranjala's travel and accommodation expenses for a year. Once the 12 months are up, they will review her performance and decide whether or not to continue with the sponsorship.