When looking at the list of some of the best young tennis players in all of New England, there are few better than Mallika Chari.
The North Andover resident and rising sophomore at The Governor’s Academy is one of the region’s top players within the United States Tennis Association under-14 age bracket. She just wrapped up a stellar freshman campaign in the No. 1 singles spot for Governor’s.
And the best part? She’s far from the finished product.
“Mallika’s got a lot of room to continue to improve, largely because she has such a passion for the game,” Governor’s head coach Bill Quigley said. “As long as she enjoys it as much as she does, she’s got so much natural talent and she will continue to improve.”
Chari’s USTA ranking, as of Thursday night, was No. 9 in New England’s under-14 age group. Remaining in the top 10 is vital, Chari said, because particular tournaments require the high ranking, and she’s desperate to play in as many of the elite competitions as she can.
All while maintaining a high status in the regional tennis circuit, Chari put forth an All-ISL campaign for Governor’s, going 8-3 and finishing (based on a points system used to determine top players) tied for fourth-best in the league.
“I think I did pretty well this year,” Chari said. “Especially for a freshman, I think it was pretty good. My school, we haven’t had a lot of USTA players, so it was a new experience. A lot of people hadn’t heard of USTA so no one really knew who I was. As I get older, I’ll become better, too.”
One key for Chari is age, as she only turned 14 in October. Most freshman will have turned 15 and already graduated into the under-16 bracket for USTA, but Chari is more or less a year behind most in her grade.
That means, especially at the No. 1 singles spot, that she might be up against girls more than four years older than her. However, Quigley hasn’t seen much of an impact from it.
“Many of her classmates are 15,” Quigley said. “She’s unusually young and still performing at a high level against players who are seniors, juniors, sophomores. We’re very proud of her.”
Chari isn’t too bothered with the age gaps, whether it’s a few months or a few years.
“I play against a lot of girls who are older than me but I find it kind of fun,” Chari said. “I get to compete against people who think, ‘Oh, it’s just a freshman, I’ll definitely beat her.’ I think it’s fun for a challenge.”
While the older opponents will eventually be out of the way, Chari will have one rival throughout her time at Governor’s. Milton Academy’s Riya Singh, who followed up an unbeaten season at first singles as an eighth grader with another as a freshman, will be lining up across from Chari for the next three seasons.
They two haven’t crossed paths recently outside of school, due to Singh being in the USTA age group above Chari’s, but they will again when Chari makes the leap to under-16. Whenever they do square off, Chari embraces the challenge and said she’s excited to face her for the next three years.
There are plenty of challenges ahead for Chari, like her future battles with Singh, her move to under-16 tennis, and her eventual goal to play college tennis while also taking education very seriously. She said it’s important to both her and her family that school takes precedence over tennis.
For the time being, though, Chari will look to keep bumping her USTA ranking up while enjoying her time at Governor’s. Quigley said that, off the court, Chari is a fun-loving, outgoing person who is simply “a delightful person to be around.”
And, on top of it all, she’s already one of the best players on the court in the ISL.
“When she gets on the court, she’s got real nice self control and composure. It holds true, whether she is dominating or whether she is in a real tight match, or whether she’s getting beaten,” Quigley said. “Mallika is one of these players who is not a typical high school tennis player.”
“I play against a lot of girls who are older than me but I find it kind of fun.”