Venkat Gains Valuable Experience Despite Losses

By John Packett, RTA Contributing Writer

Venkat Gains Valuable Experience Despite Losses

The day after Thanksgiving was a most rewarding one for Shyam Venkatasubramanian — even though the Richmonder spent nearly 11 hours at Raintree Swim and Racquet Club and won only one of four tennis matches.

Venkat, which is the last name Shyam uses the majority of the time, played in the USTA National Open Boys’ 18 tournament, which was held in Richmond for the first time and attracted some of the best juniors in the country.

Although he didn’t win but one match, the experience allowed Venkat to gain exposure to the national circuit and learn what he needs to work on during his senior year of high school at Henrico and next year in college.

Plus, his family and friends could watch him play, and he could go home after the long and tiring day.

“I was at Raintree from 8:30 in the morning to about 7 at night,” said Venkat, Henrico High’s No. 1 player. “So basically the whole day. But that’s how it is when you play in these national tournaments and we’re all used to it.

“It was good to play a tournament kind of in my backyard. It was good to be able to go home and have dinner with my family. That was really nice and the support [during his matches] was really good. It was an awesome thing to have, especially at this tournament.”

Venkat lost to Liam Caruana (Texas) 6-3, 7-6 (7-5) in a hard-fought, opening match in the round of 32.

“He’s pretty good,” said Venkat. “It was a close match. We were sort of counter-punching a lot in the beginning and it got really close in the second-set tiebreak. I had a couple chances to win [the set] but I went for too much at the end, and he was able to get it.

“He played a really good match and it was a really good experience for me.”

In the consolation bracket, Venkat unfortunately ran into the tournament’s No. 3 seed, Nicolas Podesta (New Jersey) and bowed out quickly 6-2, 6-0. Podesta had been upset in the first round by Jacob  Dunbar, who plays for the University of Richmond.

“I got a bit unlucky with that,” said Venkat. “I actually played the same kid in Florida in July and we had a pretty good match there. But he got the better of me pretty easily [at Raintree]. I fought hard and gave my best effort but he played too good.”

Venkat teamed with Mid-Atlantic partner, Michael Quang (Maryland), in doubles, and the pair won a round before losing in the quarterfinals to the No. 2 seeds. Overall, though, Venkat was glad he had the chance to play in the tournament.

“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “I knew, with the small-draw size, that every single player competing would be really good.

“It was good to get some experience against these top players. I didn’t do as well as I hoped I would do but it was good to see how I matched up against some of the top players in the country. I think it showed where I stand and how much more I need to improve.

“Hopefully, what I learned here will help me improve my game, so I can get it to a higher level and start winning more matches in these national tournaments because that’s the next level of tennis. It was a good learning experience for me.”

Venkat, who is currently ranked No. 2 in MATA in the boys’ 18 division, will continue at the top  spot for Henrico in the spring and hopes to capture his first state high-school singles title, after finishing runner-up to Cosby’s Brett Moorhead in June.

As far as college, Venkat is still narrowing his choices and plans to make a decision sometime in the spring.

This was the third year that Raintree has hosted a national tournament during Thanksgiving weekend. The previous two had been in the boys’ 16 category. Next Thanksgiving, the western Henrico County facility will have the National Open Girls’ 18 division.

Harrison O'Keefe, singles Champion

Harrison O’Keefe, singles Champion

This year’s winner was Harrison O’Keefe of Salem, who has committed to the University of South Carolina for next year.

“The players were very well-behaved,” said Eddie Parker, co-owner of Raintree and one of the area’s top teaching pros. “I think a lot of them have already signed to go to colleges, so they didn’t have that extra pressure of ‘I HAVE to do well in this tournament.’

“They all competed hard and they wanted to win. There were some 16-year-olds playing up, so it was important for them because they’re looking for schools. Overall, they were very good sports. I was really pleased with how it went.

“I hope the girls’ 18s is going to show the same kind of stuff next year. We had good crowds, too. A lot of members and a lot of non-members came out to watch. A lot of local juniors and their parents. It was definitely a big success.”