Tennis prodigy Panav Jha is home for his Easter break and from all accounts is doing well on his scholarship in Montreal.
Jha only turned 16 last month but is already one of the top teenagers in Canada. The Caymanian’s family still live here and they are extremely pleased by his progress since he was granted the $85,000 one-year scholarhip which started six months ago.
Jha was the best 15-year-old in the Caribbean last summer and contemplating another year at a Californian camp until the exclusive opportunity from the Canadians came along. He jumped at the chance.
‘In September we went to France for three weeks,’ says a beaming Jha. ‘The coaches wanted to see how we play. They were all impressed with all of us and we all had good results. I’ve improved a lot.’
Since he went back after the Christmas break Jha has been training solidly on all aspects of become a pro.
‘We had a big trip in the middle of February. We went to South America; Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Brazil. We were on the road for four weeks playing tournament after tournament on red clay. It was a different surface to what I’m used to but it was the same surface throughout.
‘The game is a lot slower. More balls being played. Anyone can play good there because all they do is run. Still a good mental and physical experience.’
That South American trip was his best experience so far. ‘I enjoyed everything in general. We weren’t living in the best places. The whole experience itself was pretty amazing. We weren’t in five-star hotels but in dorms, pretty basic.’
Jha was coached mainly by Eduardo Torres when here. With support from the Cayman Government he got as far as he could but felt compelled to go abroad to realise his pro dreams.
‘Eduardo said before I left that I needed to improve my fitness first of all and some tuning up on my strokes. I think that’s been done. Right now my new coach, who I’m really pleased with, Guillaume Marx, he’s French is getting the best out of me. He’s played professional. He didn’t make it to the top but he’s seen the pros, knows how they play.
‘He’s also coached a lot of good juniors and decent pros. He’s been working on tuning up my strokes, fitness, footwork, everything in general. I’m extremely pleased with my progress. I’ve got taller and stronger, faster. Fitness wise I’m much better.’
Jha reckons he’s the No.1 Under-16 in Canada and having won the U-18 Quebec Championships recently thinks he is in the top four at that level at the Montreal National Training Centre.
There are only four of them in total at the centre, aged between 14 and 18. Jha represents Canada now but has not forgotten how helpful the Cayman Islands Government has been in his early development. ‘I’d like to thank the Cayman Government for supporting me when I was still here playing, especially Miss Angela Martins. Eduardo too, he was there from the very beginning.’
Jha expects to be there for another two or three years before he attempts to go full-time pro.
His father Dr Gyanendra Jha had mixed emotions about his son pursuing a tennis career but is comfortable with it now.
‘It is not the medical profession and as a parent I always have this doubt in my mind,’ Dr Jha said. ‘You always want your children to do educationally very well. So I’m on his back to really enforce that educational side of his development. He is a bright kid and is under a home schooling program.
‘He actually managed to bring in As which is good for such a step he has taken. He has another six months to a year depending on how fast he wants to finish the course. In a year’s time he will have a clearer idea of whether he wants to go to college. He has a bright mind except he has to decide what he wants most to focus on. Obviously, the tennis is taking the most out of him right now.
‘I’m so grateful to the Cayman Government for giving him opportunities in the past. They helped launch his career with their great support.’
Dr Jha was a pretty useful player himself years. ‘I’m proud of Panav and love the way he is growing and maturing. I’m seeing a lot of difference in his attitude and how he approaches life now. Small things don’t matter to him, things that probably bother other children like clothes and material things. I appreciate that quite a lot.
‘I get emails from his coaches and they are very pleased with his performance and how hard he is working.’
In one email, Marx writes: ‘To give you an update about Panav since January: I think he has been doing well and I can tell that his game has definitely reached another level.
‘It looked like he finally clicked on some important issue that we talked a lot together. He needs more matches now and I hope he will get them because it is a good way for him to improve at the moment.
‘We hope now that he will be getting in the draw in South America and that his knee will be okay.’