By Martin Boyce
Ending his junior tennis career in style, Malik Bhatnagar will look to take home gold for Team Ontario at the Canada Summer Games before packing his bags for the Sunshine State.
“It means a lot actually, just that I can go represent Ontario,” says the Stetson University-bound Barrhaven native. “I think it’s a great way to end off my junior career before I head over to university.”
Prior to high school, Bhatnagar relocated to Burlington after having success both provincially and nationally. The 18-year-old Cedarview Middle School grad has since continued progressing, earning several titles and runner-up finishes in International Tennis Federation junior events.
This season is “going pretty well” for Bhatnagar, who jumped back and forth between the $100,000 ITF Challenger tournament in Gatineau and the local Kanata Klassic at the March Tennis Club the week of July 16.
Bhatnagar was eliminated in qualifying for the Gatineau event, but helped Canadian Denis Shapovalov warmup the morning before he won the tourney, then played himself back in Kanata, winning both the men’s singles and doubles events.
Bhatnagar, who trains out of the Barrhaven Tennis Club in the summer, says he’s taken big strides recently.
“On court, I’ve become a little bit more sound mentally. I’m much more patient,” he notes. “I’ve really brought my game together like that, but I think also playing aggressive has been a big help for me.”
The Ottawa Sports Awards’ top tennis player of 2016 views his domestic tournaments as great preparation for his upcoming NCAA career.
“The team environment down there is what I’m really looking forward to,” signals Bhatnagar, who recently won doubles silver and placed 4th in singles nationally. “Representing the school will be a great experience.”
The Burlington ACE Tennis Academy athlete says he’s also thrilled to play in beautiful weather all year round, rather than indoors during the dreaded Canadian winter.
Before that escape, however, comes a unique event in Winnipeg. The Canada Games – which counts amongst its alumni Ottawa native and recent French Open mixed doubles champion Gabriela Dabrowski – will offer another excellent developmental opportunity against the country’s best, Bhatnagar indicates.
“I’m working on my serve, playing a big game, and looking for the forehand,” he explains. “Just get some matches in, get my timing down, and get ready for what’s to come.”