Unnati Hooda is excited. Come May, and the 14-year-old will be making her first trip abroad as part of the India team to Bangkok. That it will be the prestigious Uber Cup speaks a lot about her stellar rise over the last six months. But what is also giving Unnati goose bumps is that she will get to rub shoulders with her idol PV Sindhu.
“I am really thrilled because it will be my first international event. I am also looking forward to being part of a team with PV Sindhu. I follow all her matches. I like her determination, her discipline and to win two Olympic medals is not easy, ”says Unnati.
In the recently conducted badminton selection trials, Unnati finished third among 19 women’s singles players and was drafted into the squad as the fourth singles player. She showed glimpses of her talent when she won the Odisha Open in January becoming the youngest Indian to win a Super 100 event, where she beat Malvika Bansod in the semi-final.
Bansod is a top-100 player, who just weeks ago, had defeated Saina Nehwal at the India Open and had reached the final of the Syed Modi meet.
At the selection trials, Unnati defeated another promising shuttler Aditi Bhatt, who won the Slovak Open last month. Comparisons have been drawn with Nehwal, who created a similar flutter in the domestic circuit at such a young age.
“I am still a junior and all these matches against top senior players have helped me gain experience. I have nothing to lose against them and give my best shot, ”says the class 10 student DBG Senior Secondary Public School, Rohtak.
“The Odisha Open win gave me the belief to face the top India players. I want to play more BWF tournaments, gain experience and improve my world ranking. “
Unnati doesn’t come from either of the big badminton hubs in the country – Hyderabad and Bengaluru. Rather, she has learned the sport in Haryana’s Rohtak, at the Chhotu Ram Stadium, famous for producing top wrestlers including Olympic medallist Sakshi Malik. But Unnati’s father Upkar is passionate about badminton and wanted his daughter to take up the sport. But Unnati’s meteoric rise surprises him too. “It is beyond my expectations. She was good at both sports and studies and I wanted to give her the chance to excel, ”says Upkar, who quit his teaching job in 2017 to concentrate on his daughter’s career.
“She is too young, so I travel with her. She won an U-11 junior event and then kept winning district and state meets. It was then that I realized that she could take up the sport seriously. “
With every victory, Unnati’s father had the thought of whether she needed to go to a better academy to train. But in Parvesh Kumar he found a good coach closer home.
Parvesh, who trains around 40 children at the state-run center, says she has a fearless streak in her. “We have been telling her she doesn’t need to put herself under pressure and enjoy herself on the court. But she is always very competitive. “
Former international Vimal Kumar, who is part of the BAI selection committee, feels Unnati has shown good progress.
“She has the winning ability. The strokes and other things can be developed but she has created some big upsets in the Odisha Open and ranking tournaments so far and that is creditable. She has earned her spot in the India team and I hope she gets to play in one of these big events, ”said Kumar.