Young Achievers

Yuki Bhambri

Currently ranked world no.1 junior tennis player, Delhi-based Yuki Bhambri (17) is all set to step into the big league early next year and play grand slam tournaments such as Wimbledon, Australian Open, US Open, and represent India at the Commonwealth Games 2010 in Delhi. Bhambri, who won the junior singles title of the Australian Open earlier this year (February 2), became the first Indian junior to win a grand slam tournament since India’s Davis Cup captain and doubles star Leander Paes won the US Open junior championship in 1991.

“Winning the Australian Open Juniors is the first step in a long march. Now my focus is on taking on senior players. Hopefully, one day I’ll become India’s first Wimbledon singles champion,” says Bhambri, currently a class XI open school student who completed his secondary education at Delhi Public School, Mathura Road in 2007. Now his hectic play and travel schedule doesn’t permit regular classroom attendance.

The brother of Sanaa and Ankit Bhambri — both India-ranked women tennis players and national champions — Yuki acknowledges his sisters as his “first inspirations”. Moreover he attributes his success thus far to his mother Indu. “She has always been on my side, traveling with me and giving me total attention,” he says.

Bhambri began playing tennis at age six in Delhi’s Shanti Club where he was coached by Shekhar Menon followed by Aditya Sachdeva. After winning the national boys singles title in 2005 while a student at the Team Tennis Academy, Delhi, he has been on the international circuit since the age of 14. He has several wins and titles from the Junior Fed Cup in Mexico where he led India into the semi-finals, to the Osaka Mayor’s Cup and the Asia/Oceania Cup in Indonesia (2008) before winning the Australian Open title earlier this year.

Bringing laurels to India is high on Bhambri’s agenda as he focuses on big tournaments. “Top level tennis these days is intensely competitive. Compe-ting at the senior level requires heavy preparation and continuous develop-ment and improvement. Playing with the big boys is serious business,” he says.

Therefore to prepare himself for that ultimate challenge, Bhambri adheres to a rigorous training and practice schedule at the Nick Bollitieri Tennis Academy, Florida where he is being trained and coached currently. “Playing in the big league requires strong will power and focused training. I am motivated and prepared to give it my all,” says Bhambri.

Power to your racquet!

Autar Nehru (Delhi)

Narendra Kumar

A class XI student from Rae Bareli district (80 km from the state capital Lucknow), Narendra Kumar (15) was the sole participant from Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous and educationally backward state, in the Junior 8 summit, organised parallely with the recent G8 summit. The annual three-day G8 Summit is a forum for heads of the world’s largest economies (US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and Canada) to discuss a range of pressing international issues. The Junior 8 (J8) enables children to highlight their problems and make recommen-dations to G8 leaders and the world community. This year’s summit was held from July 5-12 in L’Aquila, Italy. The J8 Summit was attended by 54 children from 14 countries.

From an abjectly low-caste poor family — his father is a landless agricultural labourer and his physically challenged mother runs a small provisions shop — Kumar is the seventh of ten children, and the first in the family to persist with education up to class XI. Though handicapped by his inability to speak English, Kumar made a strong case at the J8 to make education for all children up to class XII compulsory. “We need teachers who encourage students, not scare them. Without developed schools, we cannot become a developed country,” he says.

An average student (he cleared his class X state boards in the third division), held back by the family’s inability to afford textbooks, the factor that propelled Kumar to the J8 was his extracurricular activities in the Rajkiya Intermediate College and Lokmitra, a local NGO working to promote accountability in education. “I want to build a team of talented children who can move from village to village staging  plays and performing music, to create awareness about the importance of sending children to school,” says Kumar.

Exposure at the J8 has given him an entirely new perspective and widened his horizons. From subscribing to convention that education was for boys as girls have little time from household chores, he now champions female education. Therefore on his return from Italy, he persuaded his parents to get his younger sister re-admitted into school.

Yet for all the lionisation and attention he has received in the local media, Kumar’s dreams are modest. “I want to be a truly good and committed teacher. That is the direct way of contributing to the cause of quality education,” he says, with a determined glint in his eye.

Wind beneath your wings!

Vidya Pandit (Lucknow)