By Brendan Shykora
It’s the busiest time of year for tennis in Ottawa and local players at both the junior and senior levels are making their presence felt at home.
Malik Bhatnagar played his way to a 2nd-place finish in the doubles division alongside Peter Kuszynski at the 2018 Gus Morhart Ontario Open on Aug. 5. The pair won a lengthy third set to beat fellow Canadians Sasha Pachnev and Ilya Tiraspolsky in the semi-final matchup.
For Bhatnagar, it was a good way to bounce back after suffering a close quarter-final loss just a few hours beforehand to Valentin Vacherot – a France-born player and the eventual singles winner. Bhatnagar gave a nod to his opponent’s NCAA accomplishments at Texas A&M following the match.
“He’s a top college player at one of the top schools in the nation,” he said. “My serve was a little bit off in the third (set) and he was able to take advantage of that, but it was a good match overall.”
Bhatnagar is coming off his own successful venture south of the border. As a freshman at Stetson University he quickly became the top player on his team, finishing the season with a 20-3 record and an NCAA Top 125 singles ranking.
This coming year he’s moving to a bigger pond, having transferred to Louisiana State University to play in the more competitive Southeastern conference.
“I’d just like to be challenged a little bit more,” he said. “I’ll be playing schools like Georgia, Kentucky, Texas A&M … all those big schools where tonnes of the top guys go to compete at the highest level.”
Though he turned 19-years-old only this year, Bhatnagar has years of senior competitions under his belt.
“I’ve been playing in the open category for quite a long time now, pretty much since I was 15 I was signing up for men’s open tournaments.”
Before heading to Louisiana in late August, Bhatnagar will try for his first ATP point on the pro circuit in Boston, a point that would give him his first official world ranking.
Xie conquers Roman Cup
Now in the senior age group, Bhatnagar’s days of competing at the Roman Cup are over. Ray Xie, on the other hand, is just getting started. Xie won the boys Under-14 singles bracket at the four-star Ottawa tournament with a two-set victory in the final on August 5.
“I played pretty well keeping the ball in, and then going for my big forehand when I had the chance,” Xie said at the Ottawa Tennis and Lawn Bowling Club following his win in the semi-finals earlier in the day.
“It was a big breakthrough for him this year,” said Nick Mook Sang, who coaches Xie and other local juniors on the courts at Carleton University. The coach of 20 years has been working with Xie on his mental game as much as his technical game over the past two years, and the work has paid off. Xie reached the semi-finals at provincials in Niagara and went on to qualify for nationals.
“He just took off from there,” Mook Sang added. Xie ranked 3rd provincially and 9th nationally for his age group coming into the Roman Cup.
There were others among Mook Sang’s highly ranked juniors who made strong appearances over the weekend. Anna-Raphaelle Serghi reached the girls’ U14 quarter finals of the Cup, while Sam Yazdi cracked the final 16 among the U18 boys. Dan Pergel opted to play the Ontario Open at the Rideau Sports Centre as a 17-year-old competing against senior-aged players.
Serghi and Pergel will join Xie at the outdoor nationals in Mont-Tremblant come late August. Yazdi can earn a spot alongside them with a strong showing in a last-chance qualifier tournament in Toronto.
Challenger lives up to name
A champion at the last two Roman Cups, Ottawa’s Corina Spasojevic proved she’s elevated her level of play at the Gatineau’s Challenger Banque National tournament in July. She was defeated in the tournament’s first round two sets to one by New Zealand’s Erin Routliffe by scores of 3-6, 6-0 and 6-1.