Chicago Juniors Flying to Nationals - Part 2

March 3, 2023



Twins Akshay and Kiran Garapati are recent participants in the Chicago platform tennis scene. With a strong tennis background—they are State Champions in doubles—and a little extra free time this winter, the boys have become fixtures at the Saddle and Cycle Club in downtown Chicago. Both their parents play and support their newfound endeavor.

Akshay said, “We started playing in late November. The first time out, we played against our dad and one of his friends. We were beaten pretty badly, 6-0, 6-1. Then our Director of Racquets Liz Cruz told us about a junior tournament at Skokie CC. We had nothing to do that weekend, so we signed up to play.” The twins went on to win all three Junior tournaments in their area and were asked to join one of their club’s men’s teams.


Currently, the twins play tennis year-round, up to six times a week. They compete for their high school and in USTA regional tournaments and plan to play in college. Akshay said, “Our first tennis coach—Jeronie Barnes—was actually a nationally ranked paddle player. I think that is kind of cool.”

Platform tennis became their winter sport when they didn’t make the basketball team at the Latin School of Chicago. Dad Raj smiled, “All of a sudden, they had some free time in the winter. Paddle started somewhat whimsically and then grew organically.” (They are also active in skiing and hiking and have become interested in skinning up hills and mountains.)

After joining the men’s league, Kiran said, “The first couple of matches were tough, just getting used to the screens. But it’s been a lot of fun meeting our teammates and the guys on the other teams. It’s a nice, competitive environment that is a lot of fun to play in. We are definitely the youngest.” In fact, the duo became too successful too fast; they have recently been separated and placed with other partners.

Akshay said, “When we first started playing paddle, we took some lessons. Recently we’ve been trying to get better through matches. Our tennis side has given us a good base. We just need more match play to know when to hit what shots. We do drills on Sunday with our men’s league team.”

Mom Jyoti added, “Competitive tennis can be lonely. During this paddle experience, people have been incredibly supportive. The sportsmanship and the kindness in this sport—it is so positive. It’s a very nice lead-up to the finish of their senior year.”


With the Chicago Men’s League dangling the carrot of a travel stipend for Junior Nationals, they enticed more players, like the twins, to join the Junior paddle programming at their club.

Kiran said, “Since Liz told us about Junior Nationals, it has been our goal to get there. We thought it would be a really enjoyable opportunity to meet other people to play. We’ve been preparing for it since we first started. It’s been a fun path to Nationals.”

Akshay added, “We are definitely excited to go.” The twins’ parents lived in New York City years ago, so the family is looking forward to spending a day exploring before heading into competition.



In tennis, Kiran said, “When we were younger, we separated a little more because we had two close friends to play with. And an older brother who now plays at Bowdoin. In high school, we’ve always played together.”

Akshay said, “Since we are mirror-image twins, it would make sense that one of us is lefty, but we both learned everything righty. In both tennis and paddle, Kiran plays the ad side and I play the deuce side. We organize around our favorite shots—Kiran has a great backhand drive and I like to drive my forehand return.”

Kiran smiled, “I like cutting the ball off, when they try to spike it, before it reaches the side wall. I go for the full backhand drive.”

As for on-court chemistry, Akshay said, “I like how aggressive Kiran is. He is a lot more aggressive than I am. Sometimes he comes up with these shots that I could never think of. He’ll just step in and take it off the rise. It’s really nice when he wins a point like that so I don’t have to do any work.”

Kiran wrapped up the teamwork conversation, “Akshay is always the more mellow person. The lows don’t go as low with him. He brings up my lowest level. It’s always nice to have an encouraging voice behind me. I think he is really great at motivating others.”


The twins are really, really good tennis players. When we did the first paddle lesson, I saw the potential. They improve every time they get out on the court. If you see them play, you won’t understand that they just started playing this game. The family is so, so nice—great kids to join the paddle world. They will be such good representatives of Chicago Junior Paddle! Good luck to Kiran and Akshay!

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