NAGPUR: As the revamped badminton nationals came to an end on Wednesday, there were expected results. All the major players across all categories made it to the finals. While the stars hogged the limelight, some of the next generation of players made a mark too.
Lakshya Sen has been touted as the next big thing in Indian badminton since the start of this year, when he topped the junior world rankings. The 16-year-old from Uttarakhand is gradually making the transition into the senior level. In the last nationals, he had reached the final. This year, his run ended in the semifinal against Kidambi Srikanth, in a match where he impressed with his range of shots.
“I played Srikanth bhaiya for the first time. But I wasn’t nervous. It was just another match for me. I need to work on physical strength and improve on longer rallies,” said Lakshya, whose favourite player is China’s Chen Long.
Though he lost, Lakshya had done enough to impress Srikanth, the World No 2, who said, “There are many good players in the junior level. It’s good to play against them and experience the next level of competition.”
Lakshya’s elder brother Chirag is also among the up and coming lot and gave HS Prannoy a tough time in the pre-quarters before losing 7-21, 22-20, 15-21. Asked to assess his opponent’s performance, Prannoy told Express, “There’s no doubt these players have been playing well. However, to succeed at the international level, they will have to learn to play tough matches regularly. In the junior level, they get used to scoring easily. They have to play as many international events as possible, to get acclimatised to different conditions.”
While India is still looking for a doubles pair that could emulate the achievements of Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa, a women’s pair competing for the first time at the senior level reached the semis. Rituparna Panda (18) and Mithula UK (17) from the Pullela Gopichand Academy were part of the squad at the World Junior Championship last month. In Nagpur, they were humbled by the much-experienced duo of Sanyogita Ghorpade and Prajakta Sawant in three games.
“There is not much scope for badminton in Odisha. So I decided to move to Hyderabad, in February. A month later, Mithula too came in. The coaches guided us to pair up and I am satisfied with my performance till now,” said the 18-year-old Rituparna. Airports Authority of India (AAI) coach BS Bisht was of the opinion that when juniors are roped in by institutions (PSPB, AAI, AI), it gives them confidence. It can be assumed that the youngsters will also grab more attention as the days go by.
Men’s singles: Lakshya Sen, Chirag Sen (both Uttarakhand)
Women’s doubles: Rituparna Panda & Mithula UK (both Odisha)