COURTING TENNIS

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Mahi Khore is not your ordinary 11-year old. What sets her apart from her peer group is the fact that she is a champ who sets the tennis court on fire, literally.   

It was during the recent school holidays that a local newspaper published Mahi Khore’s story and her phenomenal rise in tennis at such a young age. The 11-year old Pender’s Grove Primary School, Thornbury, student did not realise she was in the limelight until one of her teachers later told her that just when he was trying to forget all about school there she was on the front page. It is something she narrates with laughter.
Mahi is not your ordinary 11-year old. What sets her apart from her peer group is the fact that she is a champ who sets the tennis court on fire, literally.
She was just four-and-half years old when her father took her to enrol in tennis. Having shown such a great inclination for swimming – taking readily to the waters since she was eight months old – Atul Khore believed his daughter would embrace tennis the same way. Except that the coach felt she was too young. “Wait till she starts going to school,” he said.
In six months, Mahi would start prep school and turn five. It was February 2013 when she enrolled for group lessons in tennis and was observed to evince to have a good hand and eye coordination as she hit the balls, quite aggressively.
Seeing this, the coach put her in a higher level than her age. So when she was five she was playing with 7-8 year olds. What is more, young Mahi started developing an interest in the game hitting the ball hard and well.
By the time Mahi turned seven, she was introduced to Squad programs. By August 2014, just a year after she was introduced to the game, Mahi was already in the Junior Development Series (JDS) for beginner to intermediate players. The JDS is designed to give players their first experience in playing a series of tournaments throughout the year.
“She won the first tournament and we were very impressed but then she got beaten in the next four matches,” laughs Atul, adding, “That was her first experience, she was still small and had only one and half years of training to her.”
After this initiation to competitive tennis, Mahi took six months off to focus on her practice and started taking private lessons. By 2015, the year Mahi turned eight she was back in the JDS tournaments and had quite a successful year winning many matches. Interestingly, she has won 26 of the Junior Development Series tournaments since the age of eight. “There are many JDS in a year but you pick the best competitions,” says a proud father Atul.
Clearly, Mahi provided a couple of developments that heightened her tennis trajectory giving us a glimpse of where she may be headed.
After JDS, she entered club competitions every Saturday and Sunday mornings. She started with Cranross Tennis Club in Preston starting at the beginners’ level in section 17. At the club level, the battle is for the sections. Mahi was playing doubles and soon she was moved to section 15, and then jumped four levels up to section 11 and then up to section five, after which she started playing singles after almost a year’s wait.
By the end of third season (a season runs into six months) in 2016, Mahi moved clubs and started playing singles under section one with Eaglemont Tennis club, one of the renowned clubs in Victoria. It is to be noted here that sections are based on ability and skills. That was the year, she won Tennis Victoria’s Clay court State Championship in ‘11 and under’ category at the age of nine. She was also runner-up in State Hard court championship the same year.
Mahi’s progression has been rapid. She has been playing in section one for the past three seasons. She now represents Northcote tennis club, Currawong Tennis Club and Eaglemont Tennis Club in Saturday and Sunday morning regional club competitions. Mahi and her team have won few grand finals and have been runner-ups in three seasons.
Atul believes his daughter can play another three seasons but club level tennis does not have any rankings attached. However it offers very good training ground and the scope for Mahi to play with girls who are much older to her, say, 15 or 16-year olds. “Club level is mostly about retaining and keeping your fitness, skills, practice – all of that. It helps your tennis anyway. But if you want to progress nationally, the path for it is to play ranking tournaments and they are called Junior Tour (JT),” explains Atul.
Junior Tournaments (JT) is an umbrella tour that provides a clear competitive pathway for aspiring tennis players. The JT tournaments offer Australian Ranking. There are four types of JTs – the JT Platinum Series, Gold Series, Silver Series and Bronze Series.
Mahi’s focus has been on JT, which runs throughout the year. While she has won two Bronze series, this January and March she was runner-up and winner in the Silver Series and just recently played her first Gold.
And now Mahi has belted her way to represent Victoria and is among the team of seven girls selected from the whole state for the Bruce Cup. To elaborate, each year talented Victorian School students have the opportunity to trial for a place in the School Sport Victoria (SSV) Team Vic State team.  Selected students participate in annual School Sport Australia (SSA) Championships including the Pacific School Games (PSG) held every second year.  These championships offer gifted and talented students the opportunity to participate in higher levels of sporting competition against students from other Australian States and Territories. Mahi will be representing Victoria in October in Adelaide.
It would be right to say that Mahi has announced her arrival among the junior girls tennis scene in Victoria and Australia perhaps. She has represented Victoria two years in a row for Super 10’s national finals (last year and this year). In fact, this year she won the Ash Barty award for “Aggression and Risk Taking.” She has also done has done three Super 10’s season with Tennis Australia at Dendy park, Brighton, a good platform for budding players to show their talent.
Mahi has been part of Tennis Australia’s State Squad  (Junior Development) for couple of years and trains at Melbourne Park every Wednesday after school and Friday mornings. Currently she is ranked 1st in the state in her age group and 6th Australia-wide.
This young champ puts in around 14 hours of training a week and seven hours of tennis and is an excellent swimmer too, which helps build her stamina.
Asked what her friends or her coach say about her style of playing, she replies, “They say that I am very attacking, I do have a deep end scale but I don’t easily go with that, I go with attacking game. My coach says the same thing, and that I have good serve and forehand. We are improving on my back hand.”
She has long overcome her nervousness. “When I am playing a big game, I used to get nervous because I would play against older people and I wouldn’t plan my game and just hit the ball but now I am past the stage and don’t have any nerves anymore. I just go for my shots now and if they don’t work, I figure out what is going on,” she says with a level of maturity, adding, “My strength is my forehand.”
She has a lot of favourite moments but one that stands out is the first time she won a match. “It was a round robin and I kept on playing everyone and I had the most games, I felt so good about winning that, it is a little winning trophy but it is special. It is my first trophy ever.”
A bubbly young girl, she displays her love for reading when she is off the courts and candidly admits she is not too fond of studies.
With her ideals being Serene Williams and Roger Federer, Mahi has an ambition to represent Australia at international level and she wants to make Australia proud.
“I like everything about tennis, I love doing a lot of competitions, I make a lot of new friends, each friend is different you learn from each other and practice with each other,” she sums up.
One of the pleasures any sport affords is watching young talent arrive, improve, and triumph. We’re looking forward to seeing what Mahi does next and in the future!

By Indira Lisram

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