By Greg French
When Rinky Hijikata and Megan Smith take on older players in the junior section of the Australian Open in Melbourne in January they know they’ll have to be at their peak.
And the 16-year-olds are working hard to get themselves physically fit and strong for the event which attracts some of the world’s best tennis juniors.
Learnt a lesson
Rinky, from Sydney, felt the pressure as a 15-year-old in the 2017 Open in January, and also played in the junior Davis Cup team in Hungary in September.
“Playing in the Australian Open was something I always wanted to do and it was a really good experience,” he says.
“I came up against two guys who were two years older than me and there is definitely a gap in physicality between me and the older boys.
“This is something I am trying to work on, and it is just as important as the playing skills.”
He’s determined to do well at Melbourne Park: “I am definitely hoping to go deep in the Open and I am training hard every day for it.”
Rinky, who is part of the NSW National Academy squad which is managed by Jaslyn Hewitt, looks up to her brother, Lleyton.
“I loved the way he played and his great attitude,” he says. He also admires the Japanese star Kei Nishikori.
Stepping it up
Megan, from Dalby in Queensland, has been playing competitively for six years but showed her talent when she won the under-16s in the WTA Future Stars tournament in Singapore in October.
“I started playing when I was five but the serious competition started when I was 10,” she says.
“The win in Singapore was definitely my best result. It is a high-profile event and winning it gave me a great confidence boost.
“But I know I will have to step it up, especially physically, when I play the older girls in the Open.
“It will be interesting to see how I go because I really want make a career in tennis.”
Megan’s role model is superstar Serena Williams because of the way she plays and her great attitude to the sport.