Tennis: 21-year-old Priyanshu Rajawat lifts maiden world tour title at Orleans Masters
"I am very happy with my performance this week. It is my first big title and I'm extremely happy to win this," said world no. 58 Rajawat.
ORLEANS: India's Priyanshu Rajawat capped off an impressive week with a thrilling win in the final against Denmark's Magnus Johannesen to claim the men's singles title at the Orleans Masters here on Sunday.
The Madhya Pradesh shuttler, who was part of the Indian team that registered an epic win at the 2022 Thomas Cup, saw off world number 49 Johannesen 21-15 19-21 21-16 in a 68-minute summit clash to grab the biggest title of his career.
"I am very happy with my performance this week. It is my first big title and I'm extremely happy to win this," world no. 58 Rajawat, who is likely to get into top 40 after this win, told PTI from Orleans.
The two shuttlers, making it to the final after coming through the qualifiers, dished out some superb badminton, but the Indian rode on his ability to produce winners to secure the world tour super 300 crown.
It was the first meeting between the two 21-year-olds, both looking for a breakthrough win but Rajawat, who didn't drop a game in the USD 240,000 tournament, showed his maturity as he dished out a controlled aggressive game to come up trumps.
The image of an airborne Rajawat unleashing a forehand crosscourt jump smash to trouble his opponent will be etched in the mind of the spectators, as he accumulated multiple points with this trademark shot.
A year ago, Rajawat had returned early from Orleans when it was a super 100 event, but the tournament was upgraded to super 300 from this year, and the Indian made the most of the opportunity.
Rajawat, who picked up the sport as a six-year-old, dished out his range of strokes to move to 6-5 with two aggressive returns on the left-handed Dane's backhand.
A backhand smash and another winner saw him lead 11-8 at the interval.
The Indian showed great anticipation, which allowed him to get into position early and bring down the shuttle with a thwack.
Two cross-court smashes helped the Indian create a yawning gap at 18-11, which the Dane couldn't bridge.
After the change of sides, Johannesen strengthened his defence while Rajawat botched up some of his shots to allow the Dane lead 6-3 as he went into the break with a three-point cushion this time.
Rajawat fell into a pool of errors to allow the Dane increase the gap to 14-9.
He clawed back at 17-15, producing some accurate winners but Johannesen jumped to three game points.
The Indian saved two before conceding one at the net as the Dane took the match to the decider.
In the third game, Rajawat zoomed to 7-2 after producing a series of winners but Johannesen narrowed it down to 7-8 after winning an incredible 54-shot rally.
The Dane drew parity at 9-9 but the Indian managed to gain a small two-point cushion after producing two winners.
After the final changeover, Rajawat got a second wind as he extended his lead to four points after winning another superb rally.
He kept the rallies in his firm grip and soon grabbed seven championship points with another cross-court smash.
He converted on his fourth attempt and lifted his hand in celebration.
"In the second game I was little tired and ended up making mistakes. My coach (N Anil Kumar) told me not to think too much and just keep the shuttle inside the court," Rajawat said.
"I recovered from 9-14 down but a small mistake cost me the second game. In the third game, I was able to keep the mistakes low. I knew if I can keep it simple, he will give me points."
Rajawat's growing up years and influences
Rajawat started playing the game following his brother Krunal.
He was interested in football for a brief time but then badminton took over and soon he found himself in the Pullela Gopichand Academy in Gwalior.
"I was there for two years but then Gopi sir called me to Hyderabad and I have been training there since 8 year old," said Rajawat.
In Hyderabad, Rajawat had the fortune of watching the cream of Indian badminton in action.
Be it Kidambi Srikanth or HS Prannoy, training with them shaped his game.
"I grew up watching videos of Lin Dan and Gopi sir and then when I started training, there was Srikanth bhaiyya, Sameer bhaiyya, Prannoy bhaiyya, all of them had an influence on my game. The sessions I had with them helped me immensely and their success also motivated me a lot."
Rajawat, who had a runner-up finish at Odisha Open in 2022, won the BAI trials to make it to the Thomas Cup team.
He then won the Raipur International Challenge and finished second at Bangladesh Open in December.