NEW DELHI: It was just another first-round routine for top seed Saina Nehwal. But for her 17-year-old opponent, Riya Mukherjee, it was the biggest match in her budding career. She was facing her idol, sporting Saina’s replica T-shirt.
Exhausted but happy to be noticed by fans and the media, the daughter of former India player Indrajit Mukherjee reveals she was delighted with the experience even though she had struggled. “This was the first time I played against her. I wanted to check my progress. If I could play a decent game against her, I feel I can be a better player,” Riya says.
Saina pocketed the first game in no time (21-5). The teenager confided she was overexcited in the beginning and lost the plot after her aggressive strategy flopped. “At first, I pushed myself too hard. I was more nervous. That is one reason I could not give my best performance in the first game,” she reasoned.
However, much to delight of the crowd, she put up a fighting show to go down 13-21 after the breather. “In the second game, I played a more mature game. I’m satisfied with my performance.”
The former U-15 national champ feels she has to work on her endurance and also needs to improve her hitting, in terms of direction. “I need to improve my stamina and my accuracy. Most of the shots that I hit were going out.”
Riya is currently balancing her studies and badminton. The Kolkata-based youngster has shifted to Lucknow to join the BBD academy. “If I could become the next Saina Nehwal, I would definitely choose badminton,” she grinned.
“I used to go to the academy for 20 days and head back home (Kolkata). But my coach insisted me to take full-time training.”
In 2014, Riya had finished runner-up in the Asian Badminton Championship in the mixed category. She is into all the three events but her core event is singles. Riya had also made the cut in the Syed Modi tournament, her senior circuit debut, in January but lost to Rituparna Das in the opening round.