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Sports

Girls Tennis Player of the Year: Powerful backhand elevated St. Charles East's Emaira Saini into one of area's elite players

Emaira Saini of St. Charles East returns the ball during a match against Glenbard North's Sage Hills during the DuKane Conference at Glenbard North on Oct. 7.
Emaira Saini of St. Charles East returns the ball during a match against Glenbard North's Sage Hills during the DuKane Conference at Glenbard North on Oct. 7.

Emaira Saini will take an opportunity to showcase her lethal backhand any time opponents give her the chance.

Saini, right-handed, simply finds a comfort zone with the swing that few can match.

“It’s her favorite shot,” St. Charles East tennis coach Matt Bulman said. “It’s very rare to see with [right-handed kids]. Righties usually love their forehand. What’s unique about her is her opponents will set her up to the backhand side and that’s the ball she wants.”

Ever since that shot developed when the St. Charles East senior was 13, it’s become the signature power move that has elevated her to among the highest of regards in the high school tennis world throughout Kane County.

“...All of a sudden, there’s a short ball to the backhand side and she just rips that thing right down the line,” Bulman continued. “It’s a shot that everyone takes a second [to think] ‘Can that kid do that all match?’ Yes, she can.”

Saini, who played at St. Charles North her first two years of high school before transferring to St. Charles East, and also split time as a singles and doubles player, will graduate with a career few may top.

She's been an all-state selection, Saini won a singles sectional championsip this year and finished with an overall career record of 110-31.

Saini helped lead the Saints to their second consecutive sectional title. Saini also finished second in the DuKane Conference at No. 1 singles.

“Her backhand is one of the best I’ve ever seen in my 20 years of coaching as a righty,” St. Charles North girls tennis coach Sean Masoncup said. “It’s insane how she gets this huge whip and follows through with it. It’s a deadly weapon.”

In preparation for competition against Saini, Masoncup would work with North Stars No. 1 singles freshman standout Maddie Chaggaris exclusively on hitting balls emulating the way Saini does.

“Anytime [Chaggaris] would hit a back hand to her opponent we would say that was a lost point,” Masoncup said. “Because if you give Emaira a backhand, it’s over with. And, she showed that this year winning a sectionals and having an unbelievable conference tournament, too,” Masoncup continued.

The win-loss record for Saini is special. She once didn’t even consider imagining herself reaching the century mark.

During her freshman and sophomore seasons with the North Stars, Saini played pretty exclusively at doubles. Coming into high school, she was actually switched to a doubles player.

“My previous partner, Shelby Thomas, she hit 100 wins...I didn’t really expect that for myself,” Saini said. “...Personally, I don’t really keep track of my record that much.”

Yet, once Saini learned reaching that record was a possibility entering senior year, she was determined to achieve that goal.

“I’m super proud of myself and it’s really a big accomplishment for me,” Saini continued.

Despite the vibrato a record like that carries, Saini didn’t let that get to her head. Saini came back after being down in a number of matches at sectionals to ultimately prevail.

“She is one of the most humble and easy-going people that I’ve ever had the chance to coach. You can almost forget that she wants to win sometimes because you just see her out there having fun and then all of a sudden, she’ll just turn a switch where she needs to go competitive,” Bulman said.

“...She didn’t walk off the court saying ‘I’m a sectional champ’. She just walked off the court and said ‘Thank-you. Thank-you for believing in me. Thank you for helping me.’ She said the same thing about Masoncup. She’s just a very thankful and humble kid about the entire process,” Bulman continued.

Kane County Chronicle all-Area Tennis Team

Batavia

Leah Puttin and Bella Lins, juniors: Batavia's No. 1 doubles team took second place in conference and fourth place at sectionals. They went 23-4 this season. Puttin ranks third all time in program history with 87 career wins.

Alex Klein, senior: Klein placed fourth in sectionals, which would have qualified her for stat, and was fifth in conference at No. 1 singles. Klein went 18-9 this season and finished her four-year varsity career 75-30.

Kaneland

Piper Schrepferman, senior: After a midseason injury, Schrepferman bounced back to win the No. 1 singles title at the Interstate Eight Conference meet, then won the singles title at the St. Francis Sectional as part of a 12-2 season record.

St. Charles East

Emaira Saini, senior. Saini completed her career by winning a sectional championship this season, and finished with over 100 career wins.

Caroline Donati and Smita Dhar, junior/sophomore: The Saints' No. 1 doubles team finished 18-5 and would have been state qualifiers.

St. Charles North

Maddie Chaggaris, freshman: Chaggaris would have qualified for the state tournament as a freshman while playing No. 1 singles. Chaggaris was an All-Dukane Conference selection and finished 11-7.

Tatum Settelmyer and Leila Papanicholas, seniors: The North Stars' No. 1 doubles team went 19-3 on the season and won titles at both conference and sectionals.

St. Francis

Elen Ryson and Maddie Hoden, sophomores: Ryson primarily played singles this season, going 19-11 overall. At sectionals the two were paired up for No. 1 doubles play for an injured player and placed second.

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