For Cannon Kingsley of Northport and Neel Rajesh of Oyster Bay there is no bigger stage in tennis than the U.S. Open.
The 17-year-olds will make their debuts in the main draw of the Open’s junior competition that begins on Sunday. Kingsley received a wild card into the French Open juniors, then based on his ITF ranking—which has been in the 30s—he got direct entry into Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Rajesh won the U.S. junior clay court title in July, earning him a wild card into Flushing Meadows.
The pair train at the Christopher Morley Park Tennis Center in Roslyn and are frequent hitting partners. Rajesh thinks they’ve played each other three times officially several years ago and he leads 2-1. “I’m not sure. I’ll trust his word on that,” Kingsley said.
Kingsley lost in the second round of both the French and Wimbledon juniors to the same player, Nicolas Mejia. He had a solid spring showing, winning a clay court event in Santa Croce, Italy, in May. He lost in the third round of the U.S. boys at Kalamazoo. Rajesh made it to the fourth.
Kingsley is counting on his experience at Roland Garros and Wimbledon to handle the pressure of the Open.
“Overall it was a confidence booster,” he said. “It’s different with the pressure. It’s who can handle the pressure better. I think everyone at that level can play the same tennis, it’s who handles the pressure better. That’s going to work to my advantage at the U.S. Open, having two Grand Slams under my belt.”
He also has the added incentive of seeing Rajesh win a major title.
“Neel wasn’t doing that amazing until he won that clay court,” Kingsley said. “Just seeing his level going up is telling me I’ve to be moving my level up.”
It was a pressure-packed run for Rajesh at the boys clay court in Delray Beach, Florida, a situation that should serve him well at the Open.
“The week before that I trained pretty hard on clay,” Rajesh said. “We went down a couple of days before the tournament started in Florida so I could get used to the weather and the courts. I felt comfortable on the clay court. From the first match I was playing well. The conditions were really tough, but I was able to fight through it.”
Noah Rubin of Merrick is now a tour player at age 22. He lost in the first round of this Open on Tuesday. In 2014, Rubin won the Wimbledon juniors and the boys national tournament. He’s quite familiar with the pressures on young players.
“At that age, if you can produce and create habit that can last throughout your career, it is very important,” Rubin said. “I created some great habits when I was younger and there were some habits I wish I created. Getting yourself into the mentality of being a professional.”
And, of course, enjoying it.
“At their ages, 17-18, every match matters, every tournament,” Rubin said. “But at the same time you can have 20 more years on tour, so you have a lot of time to improve, so try to take everything with a grain of salt and enjoy it.”
Which is exactly what Rajesh intends to do. “I’m pretty anxious, but I just want to enjoy it,” said Rajesh, who hit with Kingsley at the Tennis Center on Tuesday. “I’m pretty happy with my game.”
Kingsley also got to hit with pros Jack Sock and Alexander Zverev. “I’m not that nervous, but I’m excited to be playing in the Open,” Kingsley said. “Can’t wait to get started.”