Senior Spotlight: Tennis success has led to teaching opportunities for City League singles champ

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Friday, May 15, 2020 | 1:18 PM


Editor’s note: Each day, Trib HSSN will spotlight WPIAL spring athletes whose senior years were cut short by the coronavirus pandemic.

Sachin Thiagarahan represented both Obama Academy and the City League three times at the PIAA Class AAA boys tennis championships.

He got his first taste of competition at Hershey as the doubles champion with Krishnan Alagar in 2017, and he returned in 2018 with partner Rajan Alagar.

Last year, Thiagarahan captured his first City League singles title and battled the No. 7 seed in the first round of states.

He hoped to make it a PIAA four-peat this spring. Despite having his final season wiped out, he said he is happy with what he accomplished in his high school career.

His journey in tennis also took off over the past several summers as he trained at both the Frick Park Clay Court Tennis Club and the Mellon Park Tennis Center Bubble.

Training work connected him with mentors, including respected instructor Jose Mieres, who would enable Thiagarahan to also become a junior coach at Frick Park and Mellon Park. He gave back to younger players, including those just starting out in the game.

He said he plans to continue teaching tennis in the summer months as much as possible.

While collegiate tennis is not in Thiagarahan’s future, academic opportunities at Pitt are.

The senior at the Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy recently accepted a full academic scholarship to the Oakland campus and plans to study chemistry on a pre-med track. Penn State, Drexel, Penn and Brown were other schools he considered.

Thiagarahan also joined the Obama boys volleyball team as a freshman, but because it ran at the same time as tennis, he decided to part ways with the indoor net sport.

“I definitely enjoyed volleyball, and if it wasn’t in the spring, I definitely would’ve stuck with it,” he said. “I got a lot more fit playing that sport.”

What was it like to represent Obama and the City League at the PIAA Class AAA tournament?

It was an amazing experience. Honestly, states was a step up from what I was used to. You have the top players from all over the state who are hungry to win a title. Last year, playing against the No. 7 seed, he was a really tough opponent. It was eye opening to see how much dedication some put into a sport like this. I definitely wish I had another opportunity to keep pushing myself and make it back to states. I was really optimistic about what I could’ve done.

How was the season shaping up for the team as a whole?

The last two years, we didn’t have a full team for matches. We got the word out for this year, and we had 10 players. There was a lot of excitement for the team. We were putting together a pretty strong lineup, including kids I have been playing with for years who finally joined the team. I was super confident in what we could’ve done.

What is your best memory of playing tennis for Obama?

I think it was any time we would travel to another school to play matches. We would take a bus or go with our coach in his car. It was such a fun experience. Meeting up and playing matches, there was always such a feeling of respect and sportsmanship among the players and teams.

What is your best overall memory as a sports fan?

I used to watch Premier League soccer a lot, and I would follow Manchester City religiously. There was just a sense of excitement in watching each match and the amazing celebrations each time a goal was scored.

Is there a tennis pro you try to emulate or who you are sometimes compared to in terms of playing style?

There is one player, (Australian) Nick Kyrgios, who I try to copy my game after. There are people who say he has negative aspects because he’s a racquet breaker when he gets mad or might not seem to care all the time, but when he’s at his best, his game is so fluid and he plays aggressively. I just try to focus on what he can do on the court and not all that other stuff.

In what area or areas of your game do you feel you’ve improved the most?

My backhand used to be atrocious. That is definitely something I’ve had to work on. My power shot definitely was my forehand, and most of my opponents would try to set it away from that. I spent an entire summer working on backhands until I could nail them down the line every single time.

How rewarding is it to be able to help younger players improve their games through your teaching?

The average age of the kids we instruct is 7 or 8. We might have someone a little older or a little younger, but most of them are touching a tennis racquet for the first time when they come to us. Helping them find their form and teaching them the core components of how to play the sport, it’s really special being able to watch them improve over the summer.

How did Pitt stand out to you in terms of your desired course of study?

Pitt is in the top 10 for all medical programs in the entire United States. Their matriculation rate from their undergrad program to medical school is extremely high. That was very attractive to me.

What is something — maybe a hobby or talent — that people might not know about you?

I produce music digitally online. I got into that at school in ninth grade. Since we don’t have a traditional music program at SciTech, most things are just digitally based. We have a digital arts department, so I’ve been spending three years learning all types of digital audio workstations. I’ve been making music using those tools. It’s a lot of fun. I save all my work online, so I can access it anywhere I want. I’ve been able to pull it up on my computer at home and pick up where I left off.

What kind of music styles do you concentrate on?

It’s a mix. I have done some forms of electronic dance music, but I focus primarily on hip-hop.

Do you play an instrument?

I played the violin classically for about eight years. I sort of had to drop it when I got into high school because of classes and other academic things took up my time. I definitely want to pick up the violin again and also get into piano more. I had started piano lessons for three months. At the time, one of my piano teachers said something that stuck with me. It’s that the piano isn’t specifically an instrument. It’s more of an understanding of music theory overall, and once you learn how to play piano, learning other instruments gets much easier. I want that baseline before I try to pick up any other instrument.

If you could invite any three people from history to dinner, who would they be and why?

Steve Jobs. He’s a pioneer. He’s always been a role model, in a sense, because of his innovations. Martin Luther King. I enjoy reading about all he did in the civil rights movement. It’s been a very interesting topic for me. Albert Einstein. He is my childhood hero. I always read about what he accomplished, and it struck a nerve with me.

If you could have anyone deliver a speech as your graduation ceremony, who would it be?

I would say Bill Gates. He’s a very successful man, and I feel his method model of living through life is something a lot of people should follow.

If you were asked to give a speech, what advice would you give to underclassmen?

I would say find a balance. Don’t devote your entire time to one specific thing like partying or having fun or spending your entire time to studying. It’s important to find that solid equilibrium where you can do both and still succeed.

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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