Bollettieri boy aims to become Miles better

Agassi and Safin are his role models, not Tim Henman. Ronald Atkin finds what makes leading Briton tick
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The Independent Online

For once, Tim Henman was not the last Briton left standing at Wimbledon. That honour finished in the fierce and talented grip of Miles Kasiri, a Margate-born 18-year-old, who burnished his game at that famous school of hard knocks, the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Florida.

For once, Tim Henman was not the last Briton left standing at Wimbledon. That honour finished in the fierce and talented grip of Miles Kasiri, a Margate-born 18-year-old, who burnished his game at that famous school of hard knocks, the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Florida.

Last Sunday Kasiri narrowly failed to surmount the ultimate hurdle and become the first home-bred youngster to win Junior Wimbledon for 42 years. Beaten 7-5 7-6 by the exceptional French boy Gael Monfils, Miles is still regretting that he missed set points in both sets against someone who has now won all three junior Grand Slams this year. That is clear indication of how good Kasiri is.

The plan is to become much better. And quickly. His attractive confidence was instilled at the Bollettieri campus, along with a willingness to work to the last gasp. For example, he was talking in the wake of the Monfils match about his ambition to return to Wimbledon next year as a senior competitor on his own merits.

"I don't want to rely on receiving wild cards to get into Grand Slams," he said, a clear nudge at the many British players who are grateful for the, usually brief, Wimbledon payday provided by a wild card.

Miles was born to tennis-mad parents: an Iranian father, Firuz, and an English mother, Gail. He was photographed with a racket at the age of six months and first taken to Wimbledon as a baby. He started playing at three and within 10 years had become, he says, "the best in the country for my age, there was no competition.

"My parents aren't pushy but they are very interested in helping me every way they can, so they arranged to meet Nick Bollettieri at Wimbledon, because they saw that if I wanted to make that big improvement I had to go abroad."

The family paid the 13-year-old's air fare to Florida where, after a trial, Bollettieri offered him a full scholarship - free tuition, board and lodging. "It was the first time that I had done anything like that," said Miles. "I got very homesick and I was shocked by how hard they made me work. It was not a very nice time for me at first, but it was good for me."

Mingling with such habitués of the academy as the Williams sisters, Tommy Haas and Maria Sharapova was certainly not bad for self-esteem, and things improved when Gail Kasiri moved to Florida for the second year of Miles's stay, renting an apartment to offer her son a touch of home life.

Kasiri spent three years at the Bollettieri school. "I could have stayed longer, I was supposed to stay longer, they wanted to keep me there because I was improving. But when I played the US Open juniors in New York last September I was approached by David Felgate [the LTA's performance director]." Felgate offered the LTA's financial backing for coaching and travelling and this, allied to the fact that he wanted to be closer to his family, persuaded Miles to move back to Britain and base himself at Queen's Club.

"Very different" is how Miles says he found the British attitude. "The workload in America is so much harder, and I was used to it. Back here, it was much more relaxed, as if they weren't taking it seriously. At the end of my training sessions I would laugh and say, 'What, is that it?', then go into the gym for an extra hour." His allotted coach, Colin Beecher, promptly realised Kasiri's hunger for work. "If I wanted to be on court eight hours a day, he was there," said Miles.

He is already playing lesser professional tournaments, and collected £300 for getting to the second round of last week's Nottingham Challenger. The US Open in six weeks' time will be his last event as a junior before stepping into the grown-up world, where so many have failed before him. If talent matches ambition, he should make it.

As someone who has won junior titles this year on clay and grass, Miles is an all-court operator who prefers to play from the back. "Tim Henman is not my role model. Even though he is a great person to follow I can't relate to him because I play nothing like him. The only thing we have in common is that we're English. Andre Agassi and Marat Safin are the players I relate to.

"Safin has the same attitude as me, I am not always the most composed person on court. When I was younger I used to be a fiery competitor, but obviously you can't do that at this level.

"To be like Henman some day, the best in the country, would be amazing, he copes with the pressure so well. I haven't had one per cent of what he has to go through, except in the past two weeks. In my Wimbledon final nearly everyone in a packed crowd wanted me to win, but most of them didn't know anything about tennis. They painted their faces and just wanted an English win."

That experience was summed up as "a bit weird", but the painted faces escape lightly compared to Margate Tennis Club, where he played as a child. "Since Wimbledon they have been in the paper every day, talking about me.

"But when I went to the club as a kid I was kicked off the courts because old people had priority, even though I was one of the top juniors in the world. Maybe that's why there aren't many good British players now, they are banned so that 70-year-olds can use the courts."

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