Earlier this summer, Samir Banerjee recorded one of the biggest wins from an Eastern junior in recent memory, as the New Jersey native captured the Wimbledon Boys’ Singles Title in London.
Banerjee brought home the Wimbledon trophy to the Tri-State area, and specifically Centercourt Performance Tennis Academy, the place where he did the bulk of his junior training growing up.
“It was phenomenal to see what he was doing,” said Conrad Singh, the CEO of Centercourt. “Samir walked into Centercourt as a nine-year-old boy, and watching him go from that to winning Wimbledon is mind-blowing.”
Banerjee’s win shined a light on the success of Centercourt’s junior program, and if you look deeper, there exists a wide range of top junior players in the program who are aiming to try and replicate Banerjee’s success.
As an example of that success, three players who symbolize this talented pool of players are Nick Kotzen, Adit Sinha and Michael Zheng. The three of them were the highest-ranked high school players in the country via UTR, a remarkable accomplishment for three players who are part of the same program.
“It was very exciting to have some of the best players in the country all training together at the same academy, as well as only living about 30 minutes away from each other,” said Zheng. “I think the training at Centercourt was very good and the coaches are all top notch. I think everyone had to commit to going there at least three times a week otherwise it wouldn’t have worked out.”
Kotzen, Sinha and Zheng have all compiled illustrious junior careers, with Zheng and Kotzen currently being high school seniors, and Sinha competing as a freshman with the Cornell Big Red.
Sinha got his start playing tennis when he was around six-years-old, as his parents, who were big cricket fans, could not find a cricket bat to purchase in the United States so he instead bought a tennis racket.
It worked out for the best as Sinha rose to a five-star, blue chip recruit, and fielded many collegiate offers, before deciding on Cornell.
“I was talking to (head coach) Silviu (Tanasoiu) the longest out of all the coaches,” he said. “I felt like I really developed a good relationship with him, so when he offered me I just took it.”
Sinah was the 16th ranked prospect coming out of high school, and he led what was Cornell’s best recruiting class since 2011. He is already starting in the lineup as a freshman and will look to lead Cornell to success in the Ivy League.
“Adit was a part of the Centercourt program for the last two seasons, and it truly has been a pleasure to have him a part of our team,” said Adrian Contreras, who runs Centercourt’s High-Performance program. “He has something you want in any player you coach, and that is 100 percent intensity and concentration during practices. He always tried his hardest, and made sure he had fun. That attitude was an inspiration to the rest of the group we have here.”
Kotzen is a verbal commit to Columbia, and is also a five-star, blue chip recruit who possesses a UTR ranking of 13. At an ITF event in Nicholasville, Tenn. earlier this fall, Kotzen powered his way into the semifinals with four consecutive wins, before falling to the eventual champion. It was a significant result for him, one he hopes to continue building on.
Nick is the younger brother of Alex Kotzen, a fellow Centercourt alum who currently plays for Columbia. Recently, the older Kotzen brother competed at the ITA All-American Championships in Tulsa, Oklahoma where he impressed with a run to the quarterfinals, including three victories over players ranked inside the Top 25.
Out of the three Centercourt players atop the UTR high school rankings earlier this year, the one who stood at the top was Zheng. He captured the New Jersey state high school singles title earlier this spring.
His opponent in the finals? Nick Kotzen.
“I was very motivated to beat him in that state finals and I think we both are very comfortable playing each other so there was no intimidation factor involved,” said Zheng. “I think the fact that we trained together and have played each other so often made that match even more competitive.”
Kotzen and Zheng each showed a commitment to competing in high school tennis this past season, which is not always the case for the top-ranked juniors, as sometimes they choose to focus on their training or other tournaments.
Zheng’s high school head coach commended him for that.
“He’s a class act,” Delbarton high school coach John Thompson. “When you have a guy who is as talented as he is, usually other things come with it. He’s the nicest kid, a great leader, and the team thrived off of him. You can’t ask for anything else from him. His character is fantastic and he always works his tail off. He never missed a thing for us. Sometimes kids like him will miss stuff with other tournaments. He did everything for Delbarton.”
Contreras echoed at sentiment:
“Michael has always been a true pleasure to coach, he is the perfect combination of being a humble student and a very-skilled player,” said Contreras. “He has always been respectful and polite, and once we developed that competitive personality, the results speak for themselves.”
Zheng built on his high school success this spring by competing in professional events in the fall, where he earned his first ATP singles points by posting a victory at the Vero Beach Futures down in Florida. Zheng defeated New Zealand’s Reece Falck in the opening round of the tournament, and important stepping stone for what is to come for Zheng in the future.
“This week was a good starting point for me. I just have to start committing myself to getting stronger and faster because on this level physicality plays such an important role,” said Zheng. “I think the tennis level is there now I just have to start playing more pro tournaments and going deeper in the ones I play.”
All three have bright futures ahead as we enter 2022, and the training and discipline they acquired in the years at Centercourt will stay with them as they continue the transition from being a junior player to being collegiate and professional players.
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for New York Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org