Mentoring has been a cornerstone of the JTCC philosophy for 23 years, and for National Mentoring month, JTCC wants to highlight the incredible story of alumna Tara Iyer.
A tennis prodigy who was the #1 ranked junior player in India before coming to the United States at the age of 12, Iyer honed her skills at JTCC for five years under the watchful eye of coach and mentor Vesa Ponkka as she blossomed into one of the top players in the nation.
Iyer won an NCAA National Championship competing for Duke University in 2009 before turning pro and winning four ITF singles titles at the precocious age of 19.
Iyer credits Ponkka, who was the 2011 United States Olympic Committee National Coach of the Year, as an important factor in her development.
“Vesa was a fantastic mentor to both myself and my brother Venkat who also played at JTCC,” commented Iyer. “We learned a lot of lessons from Vesa. One key one I always remember was focusing on what you can control, which is very important not just in tennis, but in life.”
Ponkka’s words proved to be fortuitous. With aspirations as a child to win Wimbledon, Iyer battled recurring injuries to her knee, and after multiple attempts to come back, her life headed in a different direction.
“I was at a crossroads in life. I was too injured to compete at the professional level even though I thought I was good enough and had the passion, being ranked in the 300’s on the WTA Tour as a 19-year-old,” explained Iyer, who describes how she changed her mindset going forward.
“I did something called re-optimizing, which is one of my favorite phrases. I decided to go back to school to get a Ph.D. in Economics because it seemed natural to have a goal. It was about doing something difficult and challenging for me personally,” she continued.
After getting her Ph.D. at the University of Oxford in 2017, Iyer worked at the Council of Economic Advisors in the White House for one year. Her career then took her back to Delhi, India, where she worked as a consultant for the Asian Development Bank for another year before returning to Washington, DC, where she now advises finance ministries and central banks of the Czech Republic and Luxembourg on monetary and financial policy at the prestigious International Monetary Fund.
Always a devout tennis fan at heart, Iyer still keeps tabs on JTCC and is happy to see the success of former players in the spotlight.
“It’s absolutely fantastic to see the success of Frances Tiafoe, Denis Kudla, and Robin Montgomery. It speaks to Vesa and all the fantastic coaches at JTCC,” stated Iyer who describes what makes JTCC so unique.
“Players have a rare opportunity at JTCC. You have the infrastructure where people can seamlessly integrate school with tennis all combined with JTCC’s awesome culture,” she said. “I always feel super comfortable coming back, and after being here 20 years, it feels like a pseudo-home.”
What advice does Iyer have for other young individuals also with big aspirations?
“There will always be people who accomplish more than you, and there will be people who accomplish less than you. But in the end, it doesn’t matter as long as you are happy with what you have done,” Iyer proclaimed.