Power player

Cherokee’s Arjun Mannan is already a county and conference singles champion. He’s now looking to make a run at the 2019 South Jersey Interscholastic Championships.

Cherokee’s Arjun Mannan makes contact with the ball as he competes in the Olympic Conference singles final against Cherry Hill East’s Adam Yu.

It didn’t take long for Cherokee boys tennis head coach Dave Haney to learn just how special sophomore Arjun Mannan was on the tennis court.

“I remember the first time I really took note of how hard he could hit,” Haney said. “I had my back turned and was talking to my assistant coach, and I heard the pop of the racket. I just remember turning to my assistant coach and having the biggest smile.”

Since his arrival on the high school scene in 2018, Mannan has been turning heads with his powerful forehand and unflappable demeanor on the court. Just halfway through his second high school season, Mannan has already won the Burlington County Open twice, advanced to the semifinals of the South Jersey Interscholastic Championships as a freshman and last Wednesday won his first Olympic Conference singles title when he defeated Cherry Hill East’s Adam Yu in a match between arguably the top two players in South Jersey.

“It means a lot,” Mannan said of his achievements in high school so far. “I know where I am based on other kids near me.”

Mannan’s powerful serve and forehand make him stand out from his high school peers. Mannan said his forehand has always been his biggest strength, and he’s improved his serve simply by focusing on it in practices.

What makes Mannan’s power even more impressive is his small physical stature. A recruiting profile on www.ncsasports.org lists Mannan has only being five-feet, six-inches tall.

“Coaches’ jaws drop when they see him hit the ball as hard as he does, for as small as his frame is,” Haney said.

Mannan may only be a sophomore, but he has more experience than a lot of high school seniors. Mannan began playing tennis at 8 years old and has competed in United States Tennis Association tournaments for a number of years. Mannan competes in about 20 USTA events annually, giving him a slew of tournament experience.

When asked about his approach during tournaments, Mannan doesn’t have a detailed game plan. He instead keeps things simple.

“I just take it match by match,” he said.

That tournament experience shows when Mannan competes for the Chiefs at the high school level. Haney describes Mannan as a very poised player who doesn’t allow errors or momentum swings to deter him during matches.

“He is a poker player in the sense of his game face,” Haney said.  “He’s an amazing tennis player and a very coachable kid.”

Mannan’s positive attitude has led to him receiving honors outside of his victories on the scoreboard. Last month, Mannan was awarded the USTA Middle States Boys’ 16 Sportsmanship Award, something he’s won three of the last four years in his age group.

“He has his eye on the prize, but he never (complains),” Haney said. “He’s focused and humble.”

This season, Mannan has been nearly perfect in high school competition. In addition to sweeping through two tournaments, Mannan has lost only one match during team play, a 6-4 6-2 loss to Yu on April 3.

Yu and Mannan have faced off numerous times over the past couple years, with each player having his share of success. In last year’s two regular season meetings between the two players, Yu and Mannan each won once. They also met in last year’s Olympic Conference tournament semifinals, where Yu retired in the second set. In the South Jersey Interscholastic Championship semifinals last year, the two players faced off again, but this time it was Mannan who retired early due to injury.

Improving his result at the South Jersey championships is a big focus for Mannan this month. This year’s tournament will take kick off on May 18.

“I want to do better this year,” Mannan said. “Last year, I hurt my leg and had to pull out in the semis. This year, I want to do better.”

Haney looks forward to seeing Mannan have more success over the next few years. He believes Mannan could put together one of the greatest careers in Cherokee’s history if he continues to stay focused on his game.

“I want him to continue playing the great tennis he brings every day,” Haney said. “That’s my wish for him. My wish is for him to be remembered for that.”