HYDERABAD: From the 2017 edition of the Senior National Badminton Championships held in Nagpur, the star value of the tournament has skyrocketed this season, with the Badminton Association of India (BAI) making it mandatory for all top shuttlers to take part.
In the latest edition at Guwahati, top players such as PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal are present to showcase their skills. While there may not be much to gain for these athletes there, as they trot the globe frequently and play against the best in the business, these nationals are a chance to test the next batch of talent.
It will be a heavy mantle to carry, post the Sindhu-Saina and Kidambi Srikanth era, but experts believe there are a few with the required skill-set who could do that. The first one on this list is Lakshya Sen. The 17-year-old won his first senior tournament at the Tata Open last December, after creating waves at the junior level. In the last two editions of the senior nationals, the teenager had finished runner-up and semifinalist, respectively.
This newspaper got in touch with a few connoisseurs of the game to learn more about the next lot. “Other than Lakshya, there is Priyanshu Rajawat (17) and Maisnam Meiraba (16),” noted veteran coach U Vimal Kumar, Lakshya’s coach.
“Rajawat can play shots without making mistakes. There are areas he needs to work on. If he can do that, he will become a potent senior player.” Rajawat won a junior ranking event last year, where he was a qualifier.
In women’s singles, Gayatri Gopichand (15), Ashmita Chaliha (19) and Malvika Bansod (17) have performed consistently in the domestic circuit, at senior and junior levels. Former national champion Trupti Murgunde, who has travelled with the junior and senior teams in the recent past, sees some talent in this lot. “I have seen Gayatri and Ashmita at various international tournaments. They have what it takes to create a dent on the international stage,” she said.
Asked what needs to be done to increase the number of shuttlers who could make a mark in the future, Vimal said, “There are teenagers who have maintained the fitness levels of an international athlete, but find it difficult to land the shuttle inside the court. That’s where they need to work on. Exposing these youngsters to international tournaments will help.”
Trupti believes the area of concern is doubles, as there is hardly anyone capable of filling the shoes of Ashwini Ponnappa or N Sikki Reddy.
“Rutaparna Panda has progressed really fast in the last two years. She has the hunger to do well, and is very energetic.” The 19-year-old from Odisha, who won three senior ranking tournaments last year, is not part of the nationals.