Chathurya Nilaweera — Young tennis sensation who turned failures into success
The phrase ‘failures are the pillars of success’, can be considered as the most appropriate to describe Chathurya Nilaweera’s journey as a professional tennis player. He is regarded as one of the future prospects, who is determined to break barriers and compete internationally and be one of the frontrunners to shine at global stage in years to come.
Nilaweera’s passion for the sport was identified at the tender age of four by his father, Buddhika Nilaweera, who was also his coach until the year 2022. During his early years as a budding tennis player, young Chathurya grew under the shades of Krishantha Perera, who also worked tirelessly alongside his father to teach the budding athlete the basics of the sport.
However, in his initial years, Chathurya had fluctuating fortunes. Lack of consistency was on top of this list. As a consequence, he lost matches on numerous occasions, hampering his progress. But the youngster found a way to overcome the challenges, with the constant support and the encouragement by the ones who were closer to him.
“One of my biggest challenges early in my career was continuity. I was losing a lot of matches, the win percentage was low, and those losses dented my confidence to a certain extent,” he recalled
“Fortunately, my parents and my coaches encouraged me. More importantly, they had the patience to let me play despite my prolong period of failures. Recalling it now gives me immense pleasure and it proves that failures are the pillars of success,” Chathurya narrated his journey.
Chathurya is the elder brother of Vichinthya Nilaweera, who follows the footsteps of his brother and the younger Nilaweera is among the top five tennis players in the Under-18 category.
Chathurya attended Ananda College, Colombo, where he studied up to Grade 8.
As time went by he received a two-year tennis scholarship to Thailand in 2016. It turned out to be a decisive moment in his career. He elaborated on how he evolved as a professional player.
“It was a unique experience. The lifestyle in Thailand was entirely different. I was coached by Lee Austin, a British, and I think I was quite fortunate to learn the finer points. He was an influential character in my life. He transformed me into a player who plays the game in an aggressive style. The scholarship to Thailand helped me evolve my game into the next level.” he said.
During the stint, he participated in the first international competition. It was an ATF Division II Tournament, which was highly competitive. The gritty youngster progressed to the final but he had to settle as the runner-up. Despite losing the final, his performance during the tournament made him realise that he has the ability to shine at international level.
He regarded Ananda College as one of the pioneer schools in tennis in the country. He believes that being an Anandian guided the progress that he had achieved and to get a scholarship, which eventually turned out to be a significant moment in his development to professional level.
After completing the successful stint in Thailand, he was offered a full scholarship from Stafford International School in Colombo. He was an integral member in the tennis squad where his new school clinched its first title in the International Schools Tennis Championship in 2018/2019. He went on to represent the Junior Davis Cup during this time.
Despite his commitments to tennis, Chathurya gave equal importance to studies as well. He made numerous sacrifices to make sure that he is not distracted from achieving his ultimate goal. He credited his teachers for assisting him in balancing his education and sporting endeavours simultaneously.
Chathurya reaped his rewards for his commitment and dedication when he entered to the national pool in 2019. Since then he has been high in confidence and has been able to bounce back from all the frustrations.
“I have been in the national pool for four years. My maiden tournament was the South Asian Games in Nepal, and also played in the Davis Cup for two years. I have been a member in the Junior Davis Cup. I was able to secure an ATP point last year. There were lots of ups and downs but I think I understand my game better now. I would say that the main reason for being able to get an ATP point has been the level of confidence that I have been gaining through since coming back from Thailand,” he elaborated.
In 2019, he was crowned the Boys Under-16 champion. He was in anxiety, being was the defending champion, but as the tournament progressed Chathurya overcame the demons and eventually clinched the title for the second time.
The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic forced sporting events to be cancelled or postponed for a prolonged period. The youngster admitted that it was a challenging period, as there was a dramatic change to his lifestyle. As he comes from a sporting family background, Chathurya trained under the guidance of his father. His mother provided adequate nutrients at all times and helped him maintain his mental and physical fitness. His father trained him to play against the garage wall, which kept him motivated for the challenges ahead.
After a hiatus of a year, Chathurya became the youngest player to progress to the knockout stages in the final stages of the Men’s top categories at a National Championship. He was determined to win the national title but unfortunately did not live up to his expectations.
However he won the Under-18 Boys Singles title and partnered Thehan Wijemanne to claim the Boys Doubles event at the 105th Colombo Championship in 2021.
He played in the Davis Cup which is considered as the World Cup of tennis held in Jordan. He played against a Jordanian player, who was ranked among the top 900 players in the world and obtained match points, is a great achievement for a 16-year-old youngster at the time.
“Playing for the country gives me an amazing feeling. Ever since I picked up a tennis racket, I wanted to represent my country. It is an honour to have the Sri Lanka tag behind the back. It motivates me to be the best player I can be,” he explained.
The 2022 Chathurya won his first major title beating Zaidh Zihar in the Men’s final in the Clay Court Nationals. On the eve of the final he felt a bit nervous, after losing two finals in the Colombo Championship and the National Championships in 2021.
However, Chathurya managed to break the ice after two failures in 2021, a relief he felt after a well-deserved campaign to earn a major title for the first time in his career. He was also crowned as the national champion in the Under-18 category.
The companionship between Chathurya and Thehan Wijemanna has been a successful one since 2020. The duo became the youngest pair to win the national championship in 2021. Their success continued in the Clay Court Nationals in 2022 and also managed to defend their title at the SSC Open in January this year.
“Thehan and I have been friends since we were eight-years-old. When you are playing in Doubles you need to have the chemistry between the two players. Since we know each other’s game well, we can motivate each other when the other is not playing well. We have to communicate with our partner frequently during Doubles. I think our friendship on and off the court has been one of the main reason for our success as a pair,” Chathurya said.
As an 18-year-old who overcame several debacles during his career, Chathurya feels that the tennis fraternity needs to be patient when it comes to development of a player. He regards that as one of the major reasons for the lack of production of quality players in the country.
He lamented the fact, players tend to give up the sport due to their lack of commitment in balancing their education and sporting endeavours. He says that sports can help them develop the confidence, which allows them to be successful allrounders.
Chathurya also said that in order to be successful in tennis, players need to continue the sport for a prolonged period to reap the rewards. To date he has won 10 national titles and six international titles.