Miles Kasiri: What happened to the next big thing in British tennis?

The first home player to reach the Wimbledon boys' final since 1972 finds himself a year later injured, questioned about his attitude and eclipsed by Andrew Murray's rise

Paul Newman
Tuesday 30 April 2013 02:11

Wimbledon is just a week away and Miles Kasiri is already sick of the question. "Everyone keeps asking me if I'm going to be there," he said. "I'm not. If I'm not playing I don't want to go anywhere near Wimbledon. It would be too painful."

Twelve months ago, before the public at large had even heard of Andrew Murray, who was last week's home-grown hero at Queen's Club, Kasiri was the teenager being touted as the future of British tennis. The 18-year-old became the first British-born male to reach the Wimbledon junior final for 32 years.

Two months later Murray stole his thunder, winning the US Open junior title. The 18-year-old Scot has since become the youngest player to represent Britain in the Davis Cup - Murray and David Sherwood won their doubles rubber in March against an Israeli pair ranked fifth in the world - and made outstanding progress at the Stella Artois Championships last week, knocking out the world No 30, Taylor Dent, and coming within two points of beating the No 20, Thomas Johansson.

Kasiri has been delighted to see the progress of his contemporaries - Josh Goodall, his doubles partner on the junior circuit last year, played Greg Rusedski on Centre Court in the first round at Queen's - but the pleasure has been mixed with frustration.

Following eight months of pain and anguish, Kasiri is currently nursing himself back to fitness after a shoulder operation. He is in full training, but the shoulder is still sore. Wimbledon had been a target, but he has had to delay his return to competitive tennis until next month.

Just as importantly, Kasiri has been contemplating his future following the Lawn Tennis Association's decision in March to suspended him from its national training programme for three months. The LTA, which took similar action last year against two other promising youngsters in Sherwood and Alex Bogdanovic, had become exasperated by what it saw as a lack of motivation in Kasiri, who had been training at Queen's with one of the governing body's coaches, Colin Beecher. It was said that Kasiri was reluctant to practise his serve and wanted only to exchange endless forehands from the back of the court.

"Miles has an abundance of talent and potential which is not currently being fulfilled for a variety of reasons," Mark Petchey, the LTA's head of men's national training, said at the time. "I want to be able to sit down with Miles in June and be convinced he has used this period away constructively and is ready to take on the challenge of being a professional tennis player. If he does, the team will be delighted to welcome him back."

The news of his suspension, communicated via his agent, came as a shock to Kasiri, who was even more aghast when he read the subsequent newspaper reports about what the LTA considered was his attitude problem. Although he agrees the suspension was for the good of all concerned, he insists that the injury was at the root of his difficulties.

"I'd had shoulder problems since the age of nine, though it didn't affect me seriously until my training and tournament schedules became so busy," Kasiri said. "Just after Wimbledon last year I really started suffering and for the next nine months or so I was in agony, trying to play through it. In the end I was in so much pain that I couldn't even practise my serve.

"I was still training a lot - probably too much. I was on the court for four or five hours a day and going through extremely intense workouts. I was just trying to convince myself that my shoulder would get better by working harder and harder, but it got worse and worse. I couldn't even sleep on the shoulder because it was so painful.

"I'd also just split with my coach. Colin Beecher helped me so much over the two years I was with him and I wouldn't want to say anything against him personally, but towards the end I felt I'd got into a very negative environment.

"Colin always acted in my best interests and wanted to help me become a great player, but I think he found it hard to handle when I was injured. My results at tournaments started to dip because I wasn't even operating at 20 per cent. I was in agony and I couldn't serve. I thrive on confidence, so there was no way that I was going to perform well.

"Everything had been so positive when I was doing well in junior tournaments and particularly at the Wimbledon final, but as soon as I said I was injured and in pain and felt I really needed some help, I felt things became very negative.

"It's at times like that, when you're struggling and injured, that you find out who's there for you and who's not. It's been a real lesson for me. And I'm not just talking about the LTA, because they've helped me a lot and are still helping me now."

The LTA is overseeing Kasiri's rehabilitation after his shoulder operation two months ago. "The surgeon found an area of bruised yellow tissue which he said he'd never seen in anyone else's shoulder before," Kasiri said. "He was almost 100 per cent sure that was why I was getting so much pain.

"Just before I went in to have the operation the surgeon asked me to hold my arm out. He pushed it down with his little finger and I couldn't even resist that. When I came round after the operation he told me to put my arm out again. The shoulder was obviously sore, but this time I could push back. The pain had gone instantly."

Kasiri started hitting tennis balls again at Queen's last month and has recently been playing practice matches following his longest absence from the game since the age of three. The break gave him time to relax - "I was so intense before that if I didn't practise all day every day I would almost be panicking" - and to consider the criticisms of him by both the LTA and Nick Bollettieri. The world's most famous tennis coach, who awarded him a scholarship to his academy in Florida, acknowledges Kasiri's talent but says he "currently lacks the discipline to be a special player".

Bollettieri's verdict on his former pupil pulled no punches. "Miles had - and apparently still has - a critical weak point in his mental approach," Bollettieri said. "He has no ability to control his temper and, just as bad, no insight into how detrimental that is to his game.

"When he lost his cool on the court, he did so absolutely. He just lost the plot. He couldn't control his temper, and that affected his game. There have always been guys who lose their temper. [John] McEnroe and [Boris] Becker are obvious examples. But they didn't lose control. They channelled energy."

Kasiri says he appreciates the need to control his emotions, but insists: "I don't feel it's a bad thing to have a temperament or to be a bit feisty on court. All the best players have that element about them. You have to be determined not to lose and be ready to fight. I was born like that.

"When I was much younger I probably did get too angry and let it affect the way I played. Now I know I have to make sure I use that aggression properly, as part of a determination not to get beaten. I don't believe it's right to suppress all that emotion and play like a robot, because that takes away your individuality."

He added: "A few of the papers said that the reason the LTA and I had split was because my work ethic had slipped or I had a bad attitude. I don't know where that came from because it was all absolute rubbish. I am the most dedicated person I know."

Nobody could doubt the determination of both Kasiri and his parents. He grew up playing tennis in the family's back garden in Margate, Kent and was being coached by the age of six. At 13 his mother sought out Bollettieri at Wimbledon and the coach offered her son a scholarship. After three years in Florida, where he says he enjoyed the academy's tough training routines, Kasiri returned to Britain and began working with the LTA.

His rapid progress was crowned by a series of excellent performances at Wimbledon, where he had points to win both sets in the boys' final but lost 7-5, 7-6 to France's Gaël Monfils, who was the world's outstanding junior last year and has now broken into the senior top 100. Kasiri, ironically, says a lack of emotion in the final was his problem. "I needed to get a bit fired up," he said.

Kasiri has now left the junior ranks and aims to be back playing senior tournaments next month. He has been practising both indoors and on grass, in the hope that he will be able to play in Challenger events immediately after Wimbledon. While his strong baseline game may be better suited to clay courts, the grass-court season is his favourite time of the year.

"I'm really excited about getting back to playing matches, because that's what you're in the sport for. I'm sure it won't take me long to reach a good standard again because I already feel like I'm playing better than I was before I had the operation.

"I'm back into full practice. I'm practising four hours a day. I'm still very sore, but my serve has already improved enormously. Because I was in pain for so long I wasn't able to do any weights on the shoulder. I lost a lot of muscle and a lot of strength. My physical fitness is very good, but I have to get stronger.

"My senior ranking's in the 800s now because I've only played two tournaments in the last eight months and I've only just come out of juniors, but I know I can work my way up quickly. As far as I'm concerned it's a matter of 'when' rather than 'if' I become a top player. I've just got to be patient. It may even take three or four years for me to get in the top 100 or top 50. I just have to be sensible."

Kasiri says that as far as he is concerned the rift with the LTA (which has made all its facilities at Queen's available to him during his rehabilitation) is over. He now needs to find a new coach and convince everyone that he has taken heed of his critics. His first reaction to the LTA suspension had not been promising - "I was shocked. I just said: 'Why?' But afterwards I felt I didn't even want to know the reasons" - but he insists he has made good use of his enforced break.

"At the time I thought the LTA's decision was very harsh, but looking back I feel I really needed that time. I needed to be away from my coach and from everyone else I was involved with. I needed time to think about things. I needed time to sort my shoulder out. I took it as a real positive."

He added: "I've never doubted myself. If I do something I go for it 100 per cent. I believe in myself. If I keep on track, keep working and keep improving, I'm sure I've got the ability to become a great player one day and get to where I want to."

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