By Tom Flanagan
WILLIAMSTOWN, MA – On the court and off, Rohan Shastri is all about balance.
Shastri, a 16-year-old sophomore and straight-A student from Mount Greylock High School, is one of the fastest rising junior players in New England.
Last summer, he was simply dominant in winning the Herb Schachter Memorial USTA New England Junior Clay Court Championships in Beverly.
His run to the title came as a surprise to some, especially given the fact that Shastri plays about as much tennis during the week as some students play in gym class – as in, not much.
"I usually only train for two or three hours a week," Shastri said. "In some respects, I feel that is an advantage to me. When I do get on the court to train or for a tournament, I can completely concentrate. My mind remains uncluttered, whereas some kids may be over-focused."
Shastri has always liked tennis, but began to love it when he and his family moved to Massachusetts from India in 2005.
"My main sport in India was cricket," Shastri said. "In India, cricket is much bigger than tennis, but my dad and I still often played tennis in our driveway."
Upon his arrival in Williamstown, Shastri didn’t have the chance to play much cricket, but found a comparable sport in baseball, where his cricket background helped him become a feared pitcher in area youth leagues.
Something was still missing, however, and Shastri, then a shy junior high student, tried out for and made the Mount Greylock varsity tennis team.
He hadn’t played tennis in three years before helping his high school team to consecutive deep runs in the state tournament.
"I played a couple matches at No. 1, but I mostly played No. 2 singles," Shastri said. "I played pretty well and my teammates started asking me if I had ever played in USTA tournaments. I decided to give it a try."
Shastri quickly began to turn heads at New England tournaments, thanks to his size, natural athleticism and booming serve.
After winning the Clay Courts, Shastri took aim at a second New England championship last summer and emerged victorious at the New England Junior Hard Court Championships in West Hartford.
"Rohan’s results and rise up the New England rankings are most commendable," said David Zeutas-Broer, USTA New England’s Player Development Manager. "It is great to see him reaping the rewards of his hard work and passion for the game."
All the elements of Shastri’s game were on display in a memorable championship match against Dylan Fletcher that ended, 6-2; 6-7(19); 6-2.
"Playing on the junior circuit is incredible, and I was very excited to win a couple of big events, and it gave me the belief that I could compete," he said. "There are so many talented kids around New England. Seeding doesn’t really seem to matter. You can be a top seed and get beaten by a player who is unseeded, but just as good as you are. I enjoy that kind of a challenge. I never put any pressure on myself to win; I was just trying gain more experience."
Shastri has also taken advantage of the social opportunities that tournament tennis provides, especially for a youngster new the country and the circuit.
"When I first started playing, I was just trying to fit in," he said, "but everyone is so nice and I’ve made some great friends. On the court, we compete hard against each other, but we’re a close group and get along well."
Shastri currently travels to Schenectady, N.Y. – about 90 minutes from his home – to train at Sportime with coach Phillipe Ceas.
"One disadvantage of me living in such a remote location is that it’s difficult to find good players to hit with," Shastri said. "I’ve really enjoyed my training at Sportime and I feel like I’m improving all the time."
Shastri, who has modeled his game and his flashy on-court attire after Rafael Nadal, has dreams of playing tennis professionally, but is aware of the work it would take to reach that goal.
"Of course, I think we all want to go pro," he said. "That’s definitely my biggest goal. I know to do that I’ll have to work much harder and become more motivated. But education is very important to me, as well, and I would love the opportunity to play at a Division 1 college."