Dev Sharma could have tempered expectations for his junior tennis season at The Hill School in the spring.
Sharma chose a different path.
“I expected to remain undefeated,” said Sharma.
No pressure, right?
In fact, Sharma played with very little while still achieving the result he expected in an 11-0 season, including winning the Mid-Atlantic Prep League singles championship, Hill’s first under the current individual tournament format. His results were also worthy of the Mercury All-Area Player of the Year honors.
Sharma is the Blues’ first undefeated singles player since Jeremiah Fuller’s 2002 season, who went on to play in Wisconsin and Miami.
Sharma was Hill’s No. 2 singles player in freshman and set to play No. 1 in 2020 when the season was called off due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was a rapid rise for the Collegeville native who started in the sport at age 8 and didn’t join tennis until he was 13 or 14.
“That’s when I started to take my training more seriously,” said Sharma.
There is no other way to describe his engagement last summer at Bala Cynwyd’s High Performance Tennis Academy.
“Last summer I trained every day for five hours. It was a camp style but practical, 9 am to 3 pm with an hour of lunch break, ”he said.
Surrounded by other aspiring junior players, Sharma realized that natural talent doesn’t go far.
“(I became more passionate after) watching other players my age improve and realize that I have better skills and better shots than all of them, but if I don’t train as much as they do, they will be better, ”he said. “I found this competitive motivation to want to be better and train more.”
These long days of training were fundamental given the strong restrictions in place at Hill School to provide in-person instruction during the pandemic. Residents were required to stay on campus at all times and were tested weekly for COVID-19.
Hill did not have a fall sports season and the winter season was very limited. Spring athletes were the first to have some semblance of a traditional track and field season since winter 2019-2020.
The restrictions served their intended purpose – the Hill community had only one case of COVID throughout the school year – but it was a mental challenge for students and staff.
“It wasn’t the best for mental well-being,” Sharma said.
“They did an incredible job, all the credit goes to them. The restrictions were zero and it played a big part in the mind (challenge) but it had to be done for the main purpose of the school, which is to educate the children. The best way to educate children is in person, not through a computer. The fact that they were able to do this all year with just one case of COVID was quite remarkable. “
Unable to train at HPTA after returning from her H tenure in March, Sharma had to keep her game within the confines of Hill campus life.
“I couldn’t play at all until the season,” he said.
Despite so many factors playing against him, Sharma quickly took his place at the top of the Mid-Atlantic Prep League competition.
“They are all good, respectable players, but against the competition we played there were about two players who really pushed me,” said Sharma. “That muscle memory I had from the summer was there. He continued. And this muscular memory of wanting to win has also been perpetuated on the field. My skills were just better.
Sharma is an offensive player by nature with her 6-4 frame, powerful serve and heavy forehand as the anchors of his game.
“I’m a really big ball forward so I want to hit big and then use finesse and touch to hit the winner or take (the opponent) off the pitch to force the error,” he said. .
He has strived to improve his net play and moves over the past year.
“My move hasn’t always been the best because I’m a tall, lanky guy,” he said. “I had to work on my movement. After a few weeks and a lot of ladder exercises, it just became more natural. It has become more fluid.
Sharma was only tested by Mercersburg Academy’s Dylan Gantt and Blair Academy’s Marc Riera during the season, but Hill’s third-year student had a knack for winning in every game. Sharma edged Gantt in a super 6-2, 4-6, 10-4 tiebreaker on April 17. He beat Riera of Spain, 7-6, 7-5, on April 21 and then again in the MAPL tournament final, 6-4, 7-5, on May 15.
“Those games where you have to beat the opponent that I love,” said Sharma. “It gives me more confidence and I get better in these games. When you play against these top players, you have to think on the pitch, then you are going to improve.”
Sharma intends to make up for lost time this summer by competing in junior tournaments and improving his standings to where he thinks he should be after giving up tennis opportunities to attend school in person at Hill.
“(My goal is) to improve this ranking so that it shows who I really am and catches the interest of these varsity coaches,” he said. “The goal is to play in Division I… or in Division III. Academics always come first because I don’t want to be a pro and play tennis outside of college, so academics in school are much more important.