Samir Banerjee, 17, created quite a stir as he became the first Indian-American player to win a Grand Slam boys’ singles title, beating compatriot Viktor Lilov 7-5, 6-3 in one hour and 21 minutes in the final at the Wimbledon championships on Sunday.
Banerjee suffered a wobble while serving for the opening set at 5-3 and lost his serve, allowing Viktor to level scores at 5-5. However, he regrouped himself and won the next two games to pocket the first set. He again raced through the second set, breaking his opponent’s serve in the sixth game to take 4-2 lead.
Lilov broke back in the next game, raising hopes of another fight back but Samir did not give him that opportunity and sealed victory by winning the next game.
There has been no dearth of Indian names in the Roll of Honour of boys’ singles champions at the Wimbledon - Ramanathan Krishnan, Ramesh Krishnan, Leander Paes and Yuki Bhambri - with the Sr Krishnan still holding the best record for an Indian at the men's singles at Big W with a semi-final appearance.
At the junior French Open last month, Banerjee, ranked 19 in the world till the Wimbledon, had crashed out in the first round. His parents had moved to the US in 1980s.
“It’s a big surprise for us. After he lost in the first round of the French Open, his goal was to just win one match at Wimbledon. But I guess, he got used to the grass as he likes playing on grass surfaces. It is a pleasant surprise, we are thrilled,” Samir’s father, Kunal Banerjee - a resident of New Jersey - said in an interview with Indian media on Saturday soon after Samir’s semi-final victory.
Bhambri was the last Indian to win a junior singles title when he triumphed at the Australian Open in 2009 while Sumit Nagal won the Wimbledon boys doubles in 2015 with Vietnam’s Ly Hoang Nam.
Though Indian-American players like Prakash Amritraj and his cousin Stephen Amritraj have played on the circuit and won some titles too, Samir is the first to win the boys singles title at a Grand Slam.