CHENNAI: IT might have been a cakewalk for Aakarshi Kashyap in the Yonex Sunrise All-India Junior U-19 ranking badminton tournament which got over in Tiruppur on Sunday. The top seed didn’t break much of a sweat on way to the girls’ title, beating S Kavipriya 21-8, 21-11 in the final. Off the court, her life has not been as easy. Hailing from the small town of Bhilai in Chhattisgarh, she hardly had access to proper facilities. It was not until two months ago, when she joined Prakash Padukone’s academy in Bengaluru, that she became a regular on synthetic courts.
Till then, she was training on wooden courts and winning titles on artificial surfaces. She played on those only when she was taking part in tournaments. “I used to practise on a wooden court in Bhilai and national-level tournaments were played on synthetic mats. There is a lot of difference between the two. It was tough to adjust. The surface also affects pace of movement, which took time getting used to. My understanding of the game had to change,” Aakarshi told Express on Monday.
Not that this problem hindered her progress. Former champion in the national U-17 and U-19 categories, Aakarshi is expected to make it to the Indian team for the Asian Junior Championship coming up in Indonesia in July. National selectors were in Tamil Nadu’s Tiruppur and the squad is expected to be announced in a few days. Ranked No 1 in national U-19 rankings, she is No 6 on the women’s chart. Aakarshi won her first title at an all-India ranking U-15 tournament in Sivakasi in 2014, when she was 13. Strangely, she didn’t even have practice partners back then. “Where I trained, there was nobody else. Mostly, it was me and my coach on the court.”
Despite that, she won her first national titles in 2015, in the U-17 as well as U-19 category. Luck smiled on her in 2016, after she won a national-ranking title Bengaluru. Her performance drew the attention of Padukone. Even then, she could not start training under the former World No 1 because it meant shifting base. She also had Class X exams to think of. It became possible only after her mother too decided to shift to Bengaluru. Now she lives with her mother, in a flat provided by Olympic Gold Quest.
Her father, a doctor, is still in Bhilai. “Prakash sir saw my performance two years ago and asked me to join his academy. I joined two months back and am happy to be supported by Olympic Gold Quest,” says Aakarshi, adding that her father it was who drilled in her the importance of fitness and physical training at a young age. Asked about her strengths, Sayali Gokhale, Aakarshi’s coach at the Padukone academy, said she is good in defence and needs to work on attack. firstname.lastname@example.org