Despite growing up on the other side of the country, Natasha Rajaram has always had an affinity for the east coast. So much so, that the Cupertino, Calif. native, a five-star, blue-chip recruit, made her verbal commitment to play her collegiate tennis at Harvard University in Boston, and will be bringing her tennis talents more than 3,000 miles across the United States beginning in the Fall of 2024.
“I really enjoyed the entire college recruiting process, even though it was a bit stressful. But it was very enlightening and I learned a lot. It was fun getting to meet all of the teams and coaching staffs, but after meeting with Harvard, I knew that was the place for me,” said Rajaram. “The culture there is what set it apart for me. The team had such a strong bond, the facilities are pristine, the campus was amazing, and I felt that the coaches were so invested in not only the team success, but in the players as individuals. Of course a lot of colleges have that, but this is what really stood out to me about Harvard.
And I love the east coast; the city of Boston is amazing. All of that together made it an easy decision for me, and I’m really excited.”
Rajaram’s love for the east coast extends to the Big Apple as well, a city she has visited many times over the course of her life.
“I absolutely love New York, everything about it,” she said. “There’s such a unique energy to the city, and it has such a balance of things where you can do something new and different every time you are there. There’s always new restaurants to try and amazing food to discover. You can’t find more diversity than you can in New York, and it’s amazing to explore.”
That diversity and multiculturalism, which is at the core of what makes New York special, is something near and dear to Rajaram’s heart. She is the daughter of an Indian-American father and a Hispanic mother from a historic New Mexican family, and has embraced those roots to form a unique, worldly outlook on life.
“I love being able to learn about my ancestors and my family history, it’s been so interesting to learn about,” said Rajaram. “We visit my family in New Mexico a lot, and traveling to the different craft markets they have with the most amazing jewelry, artwork and handmade crafts which are such an important part of the culture and have so much symbolism. On my dad’s side, we actually recently had a celebration with a collection of family and friends, and dressed up in traditional Indian garments. I met so many of my parent’s close friends, people they went to school with, as well as cousins I hadn’t seen in a while. Meeting so many people with different life experiences and backgrounds is always something I enjoy doing, and it’s helped me in so many different ways.”
One of those aforementioned visits to New York City happened last summer, soon after Rajaram had finished her sophomore year of high school at the Harker School in California. While Harker was a top-tier STEM school, Rajaram was looking for an online school to attend to help her navigate her extensive training and tournament schedule, one that is required of a player of her caliber.
So Rajaram and her family came to NYC to visit Dwight Global Online School, the online independent school for students from sixth grade through 12th grade, and they knew they found Natasha’s new academic home.
“It was a difficult decision to make. Harker is such a great school, one of the best in my area, but once we found Dwight though, that was it,” she recalls. “Academics in my family have always been prioritized, and Dwight provided that intensity that we were looking for. For example, this year I am taking three AP classes, which is what I was hoping to do for my junior year, while also providing the great flexibility for my tennis. I know someone there who is a rower, and she says the same thing, that there is so much more time to be able to focus on the sport that we play. They provide so much support from the teachers to the administrators, and are there to uplift you when you need it, and it has created the ideal balance for me.”
That balance is important as Rajaram is one of the best players in the country, and that requires a lot of time to allow for training and traveling. Rajaram had a natural ability to play tennis from as early as she can remember.
Her mother, Tamera, recalls the first time they knew she had a talent for tennis, remembering taking Natasha’s older brother, Ari, out to the court to play while little Natasha tagged along. While they were trying to show him how to hold the racquet, they turned around to see Natasha, with her mini Dora the Explorer racquet in hand, hitting against the wall by herself.
The first time her parents enrolled her in lessons it was in a program where they hit with the Red Balls, but that wasn’t good enough for Rajaram. She only wanted to hit the real yellow balls, and soon after, she was competing at the highest levels of her age group, and was fully immersed in tennis.
One of the first signature moments of her young tennis career came at the “Little Mo” Nationals in Austin, Texas, where Rajaram captured the title in the Girls 9s division, a major milestone for her.
“I feel like even at such a young age, I realized how much that tournament meant and the rich history behind it,” said Rajaram. “To win that, and see all of my hard work pay off in the end, meant so much. It really brought all of my hard work to fruition. Before that event, I had been training a lot and doing sprints every day. It was gratifying to win, but also motivated me to get better because you can’t stop there. There were other high-level tournaments after that where I was playing against some of those same girls, so I realized that people would be gunning for me, and meant I had to continue my hard work.”
Rajaram would use that hard work to continue her ascent up the junior rankings, and she currently finds herself ranked inside the Top 10 in the country in the Girls 16s category. A major bolster to that ranking came last summer when she powered her way to the title at the USTA Clay Court National Championships in Alabama.
Making that victory all the more impressive, and what she was most proud of in the end, was her ability to overcome the adversity that she faced in order to win the championship. She suffered an ankle injury in the months leading up to the event but did not let that slow her down en route to capturing the prestigious win.
“I had suffered an ankle injury earlier in the year and there were multiple weeks where I couldn’t play any tournaments, and I tried to do what I could in terms of training to get ready for Clay Courts,” said Rajaram. “I was confident heading into it and knew I had to try not to focus on the injury, which was tough. Clay is also a much different surface than I am used to playing on as there really aren’t a lot of clay courts here in California to practice on, so between that and dealing with my ankle, it was tough. But once the matches started, I blocked it out of my mind. Even when I felt it hurting, I tried to go to the back of the court to reset my mind, or work hard on refocusing during changeovers.”
Those weren’t the only obstacles as Rajaram also got sick right before the final.
“I also got food poisoning and was throwing up the whole night before the final. So it was a steady stream of unfortunate instances, but to be able to overcome all of those obstacles was the thing I was the most proud of, being able to show perseverance and pushing through to come out on top.”
That perseverance is something that is a part of who Rajaram is, and has allowed her to continue taking her game to the next level, something we can expect to continue as time rolls on. In the months after Clay Court Nationals, she reinjured her ankle at Winter Nationals at the end of 2022, and is still dealing with the effects of that.
However, it did not prevent her from earning a Bronze Ball at the Fila Easter Bowl, as she paired with Florida’s Savannah Webster to finish in third place in the Girls 18s Doubles division. In her career overall, Rajaram has earned a Gold Ball in singles, as well as two Silver Balls and three Bronze Balls in doubles, with her sights set on more.
As we head into the summer and Rajaram approaches her senior year, she is eager to compete in more ITF and professional events, and aims to build up her ranking. She says one of her goals is to play in a Junior Slam sometime in the near future, and is ready to continue using her hard work to achieve her goals.
“I’m getting back into things now with a fuller training and tournament schedule, so I am excited for what lies ahead. Just trying to focus on things I can control both on and off the court. I always think back to what my coach told me which is, you are never going to be 100 percent while playing on court, so I just need to worry about the things in my control. If I do that, the results will take care of themselves.”
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for New York Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org