Last September, when Prince Edward of England visited Aiken to play court tennis, Rakesh Jasani, was his doubles partner.
“It was one of the coolest experiences of my life,” said Jasani of his encounter with the Earl of Wessex. “I will never forget it. He couldn’t have been a nicer guy, and he was a very competitive player.”
Court tennis, which was popular in Europe during the 16th century, is a forerunner of modern tennis and other racquet sports.
Prince Edward’s stop at the Aiken Tennis Club was part of his 2018 Real Tennis Tour, which raised money for Prince Philip’s International Award, a charitable effort that provides volunteer opportunities for young people.
Jasani, 38, is a member of the Aiken Tennis Club and one of the top amateur court tennis players in the nation.
“I love the game, and I play every chance I get,” he said. “I usually play in Rhode Island in August in the Pell Cup and New York in December in the Whitney Cup. In 2013, I represented the USA to compete against Australia, France and Great Britain in the Bathurst Cup.”
In his younger days, Jasani was known around Aiken for his accomplishments in the modern version of tennis.
“I was ranked very high nationally, he said. “I played No. 1 singles at South Aiken High School, and we won two state championships.”
Then Jasani headed to Clemson University, where he had both academic and athletic scholarships.
But an injury ended his plans to continue his success in the collegiate ranks of tennis.
“I broke my left wrist my freshman year at Clemson,” Jasani said. “It was just an unfortunate accident. It was pitch black dark, and I took a massive fall on some stairs at an apartment complex.”
Jasani suffered a concussion, but the damage to his wrist turned out to be a more serious complication.
“It basically took my athletic career away,” he said. “I basically would have had to change my game. I would have had a one-handed backhand, which, at that time, was going to make it too hard to compete at the highest level.
“It was very shattering,” he concluded, "and I decided to give up tennis and focus on academics.”
But when introduced to court tennis around 10 years ago by one of his former coaches, Jasani found a sport that offered him the chance to again be an elite performer.
“I think I was born to play this game,” he said. “It suited the way I used to play tennis. I used a lot of spin and variation in my game, which was kind of unorthodox, so court tennis was a natural fit for me.”
As for tennis’ modern version, which originally was called lawn tennis, it’s still part of Jasani’s life. He plays in some adult leagues, and he also is the coach of the South Aiken High boy’s tennis team.
Under Jasani’s guidance, the Thoroughbreds captured Class AAAA state championships in 2013 and 2017.
“For seven straight years, from 2011 to 2017, we played for the state championship,” Jasani said. “We had a great run.”
Coaching isn’t a career. Instead, it’s a hobby, and he receives a small stipend for the time he spends with his student-athletes.
“I wanted to give back to the community, and I felt that this was a way I could give back because tennis is obviously a passion of mine,” Jasani said. “I enjoy coaching, and I still keep up with pretty much everybody that I’ve had on my teams. They can start playing (high school tennis) in the seventh grade, so I get some of them as 12-year-olds, and they’re with me all the way up until the time they are 18-year-olds. It’s all about building relationships, and they’re great.”
Jasani has even tried playing pickleball.
“I really liked it,” he said. “It’s a sport for all ages.”
Jasani, whose nickname is "Rocket," is a native of Aiken. His family’s ancestral roots are in India, but both of his parents, Dinesh and Divya, were born in Africa.
They met and worked there – Dinesh as an accountant and Divya as a banker – before moving to England.
“My dad’s two brothers still live in Africa,” Jasani said. “One of my mom’s sisters lives in England, and one is in Sydney, Australia, so we’re all over the place. I was fortunate growing up that I was able to travel quite a bit and see the world. If I could wish one thing for anyone, it would be to travel, because it helped me realize what all is out there.”
After the birth of his older brother, Ronak, in England, Jasani's parents immigrated to this country in 1979 after exploring the business opportunities that were available.
“My dad came (to America) a few different times to visit, but the deals didn’t work out,” Jasani said. “Then this gentleman, J.K. Patel, who is my mom and dad’s very good friend, told my dad, ‘I think I’ve got something in Aiken.’ So they moved here, bought the Ramada (which now is known as the Knights Inn) on Richland Avenue, and the rest is history. We’ve gone on to build eight other hotels in Aiken. J.K. Patel and my father were partners for many years, and they built some of those hotels together.”
Jasani is the vice president of operations for the Sycamore Investment Group, a hospitality company with a management team that includes members of the Jasani and Patel families.
Sycamore owns hotels in Aiken, Greenville and Florida.
Jasani is in charge of the Hilton Garden Inn, Hampton Inn and TownePlace Suites by Marriott in Aiken.
“Ronak lives in Orlando, and he handles the whole Florida market,” Jasani said.
While attending Clemson, where he studied business management and finance, Jasani worked during the summer as a teller for Security Federal Bank in Aiken.
“I was with Security Federal Bank for several years after college,” he said. “I did some management training to become a branch manager. In 2006, my family’s business was expanding, and my dad told me, ‘I think it’s time for you to come join us.’ My brother had been doing it, and I thought it was time to get onboard. I knew there was a wealth of opportunity for us to do something great in this town.”
Hotel management is a career that suits Jasani’s outgoing personality.
“I can literally meet someone new and different every day of my life, and I think that is very cool,” he said. “I talk to people all day, every day. I love people in general.”
Jasani also is happy that Aiken is his home.
“I’ve always wanted to be a big fish in a small pond instead of a little fish in a big pond,” he said. “I love going anywhere in town and being able to see somebody I know.”
Jasani and and his wife, Susan, are looking forward to raising their two children here. Camille is 1, and Rocky was born earlier this year.
“Aiken is a great place to grow up,” Jasani said. “I had a great experience throughout my childhood, and if my kids can have the same outstanding experience that I had, they’ll live a great life.”
Jasani’s efforts to make Aiken even better include volunteering for the Rotary Club of Aiken’s Rotary Readers program and sponsorship of the Aiken Golf Classic, which raises money for Aiken Relay For Life’s efforts on behalf of the American Cancer Society.
Jasani also has served as an ambassador for the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce and a volunteer for Aiken’s Makin’.
Through an arrangement that involves a special “negotiated” rate offered by Jasani, participants in the Saratoga WarHorse program for military veterans with emotional issues stay at the Hilton Garden Suites while they are in Aiken.
The veterans interact and bond with former Thoroughbred racehorses.
“There is close to a 100 percent success rate with that program,” Jasani said. “The fact that we can be even a small part of something so special is incredible.”
When not busy with court tennis, coaching, hotel management, family activities and charitable efforts, Jasani likes to hang out with his friends. Many of them, he knew as a youngster, and like him, they decided to return to the Aiken area to live as adults.
Among those pals is professional golfer Kevin Kisner. He and Jasani are members of the Palmetto Golf Club.
“We kind of grew up together,” Jasani said. "I lived at Woodside (Woodside Plantation Country Club), and so did he. We were in a group of kids who were highly competitive and stuck together. He’s never forgotten where he came from, and when he’s in town, he still loves to be with his buddies and play golf with us. You would think maybe he would get tired of that, but he doesn’t.”