How Aakarshi Kashyap confirmed her status as India’s best young women’s shuttler

On her way back home to Durg, Chhattisgarh, after a grueling week in the national capital, shuttler Aakarshi Kashyap reflected on the kind of small sacrifices she’s made, the hours of hard work she’s put in week after week to improve her game. It was a day worth doing all that because, with seven wins out of seven matches she played at the Badminton Association of India Selection Trials 2022, she reiterated her status as the country’s best upcoming women’s singles player.

It is not a mantle to be taken lightly, given the rich recent history India have in the world of badminton in that category. But the world’s third-highest ranked Indian female shuttler now knew she has earned her right to represent her nation at big-ticket events she dreamed of competing in as a kid. On Thursday, the 20-year-old was confirmed to be a part of India’s squad for the Uber Cup, Commonwealth Games and Asian Games.

India’s badminton squads announced: Aakarshi Kashyap makes the cut for all three major events

It looks very good, ”She told Scroll.in over a telephonic conversation, the joy and relief evident in her voice. “I am humbled, feeling very grateful to God, thankful to Suchitra Badminton Academy and my mentors over the years. This day will be one I remember for my lifetime because the major events I dreamed of playing in as a kid, I will now get a chance to actually be on court for India. And so many people will be cheering for me. It will be a moment I have worked for all my life. “

Just a few months back, however, things were not quite going per plan for Aakarshi. In the trials held in August last year to select squads for the Sudirman Cup and Uber Cup, she did not make the cut. She has been the top Indian domestic player for a while now but circumstances did not work for her. In the lead up to the trials, she had to be in Delhi to sort out her visa for a tournament in Mexico and then had to travel to Hyderabad for the matches. She ended up losing against Riya Mookherjee and Aditi Bhatt in the initial stages. She wasn’t quite prepared and it ended up costing her a place in the two major team events.

For the youngster who had just turned 20 a few days earlier, it obviously meant huge disappointment.

Moving on

But once her trial matches got over, she didn’t dwell. Her visa to Mexico was anyway done, so she flew out the day after and reached Aguascalientes on the same day as her opening match for the Mexican International Challenge, jet lagged and all.

From a quarterfinals appearance there, the long road to redemption began with small steps. What followed was a series of international tournaments. Mexico, Netherlands, back to India, then Belgium, Germany, Bahrain, Bangladesh … all at the end of 2021, where she earned a lot of ranking points. Then 2022 started with a semi-final run at the India Open where she gave Thailand’s Busanan Ongbamrungphan a mighty scare, followed by quarterfinals at the Syed Modi Super 300.

Soon her ranking had come up high enough to enter the Swiss Open and she got a promotion from reserves at the All England too, a dream tournament for her.

“I am getting the reward now for my hard work. Someone could have thought about where their career was going at that point (when she missed selection last year), but that is not the way I want to think. I will never give up, ”Aakarshi said.

“Wins and losses will be part of an athlete’s life, I still wanted to work hard the next day, next day … and focus on my basic game, not winning and losing. I never missed a single training session. On rest days, I took proper rest. I didn’t go out to malls or watch movies and stuff like that. When on tour in Switzerland or England, I didn’t go out to roam around in those cities. I was always doing my practice sessions. I have uninstalled Instagram from my phone, I have not been active on social media. And I feel like all that hard work and little sacrifices have given me this result today. “

Indeed all that international exposure and training has now taken her to just outside the top 50 in the world and more importantly, established her as India’s second-choice singles player for major upcoming team events behind only PV Sindhu.

Aakarshi Kashyap’s results at BAI Selection Trials (Tournament Software)

Self belief

A crucial part of Aakarshi’s rise was when, in October 2019, she made the move to Suchitra Badminton Academy. Already doing well in the Indian domestic circuit, she was having a bit of a tough time against a couple of players. One of them was Ashmita Chaliha, the player Aakarshi incidentally defeated this week in New Delhi at the end of the trials to decisively earn the No 1 spot.

“For her to go to the next level, we just had to make a few minor tweaks in her game and certain aspects of her mindset,” said Pradeep Raju, Aakarshi’s mentor since the end of 2019 and Director of Suchitra Badminton Academy where PV Sindhu has been trained the past few years, told Scroll.in.

“Ashmita and Gayatri (Gopichand) were two players she was having difficulties against at that point. It often comes down to making athletes believe they can beat anybody. Once she was here, she could immediately see the results. All it took was subtle changes mentally and physically, where she had to get leaner and quicker on the court. And the help of video analysis of opponents too, which we focus on a lot.

“The other thing we decided when our association started was better selection of tournaments. Instead of Super 100 and above, we got her to play a few international series and future series. Tournaments in Uganda and Kenya (early in 2020), that saw her finish on the podium, gave her the belief that with hard work she can win international medals, ”Raju added.

Aakarshi Kashyap’s BWF World ranking graph from September 2021 to April 2022 (current rank: 52)

Evolving as a player

Aakarshi describes herself as a player who loves to rally, retrieving the shuttle as much as possible. Idolising the Indian legends first, she also looks up to world No 1 Tai Tzu Ying and Olympic champion Chen Yufei among the overseas stars. And now, it is that sort of all-round game that she is keen to develop.

The trials in Delhi also brought out a new aggressive side to her game. Rallying will inevitably be the base of her game, but she also showed a keenness to finish points quicker where possible, something Raju said they have been working on. And even in conditions where the drift was affecting game-play significantly, she looked unbeatable.

“Everybody is unique with their game-play. If you ask Carolina Marin and PV Sindhu to completely play a rally-type game, they won’t last long in tournaments. If you see Nozomi Okuhara, she rallies a lot, she is not the most physically intimidating shuttler but she has been at the top. We have to get better at an athlete’s natural game, “said Raju.

“And that’s what we did with Aakarshi. Another huge advantage for her was, during the Covid period and in the build-up to Tokyo Olympics, she got the chance to play against Sindhu at our academy where we had league matches. In a match situation, even in defeat, she pushed Sindhu very close in two hard-fought games. It gave her a lot of confidence. And she has trained regularly also with shuttlers who spar with Sindhu. It told her she was not far behind and that was big. “

From standing on the other side of the net from her at the academy, the World No 52 will soon be the Indian No 2 behind ‘Sindhu di’ on some big stages.

“I want to be one of the big names in badminton in our country. I see myself there. After Sindhu, maybe I can win medals for my country, ”she said when asked if that’s her ultimate goal.

“She is on the right path. From here, to go from a top 100 player to top 50 and beyond, we have to work on her consistency over tournaments, ”Raju said. “To deal with the physicality and mental load of high level events regularly. I believe for India, she is the next best option we have after Saina Nehwal and Sindhu. The best athletes have the belief that they can come back from any situation in their careers. They can make a difference. It’s about the constant grind that these athletes need to have, constant belief that they can do it … and importantly, work on their game accordingly. “

Aakarshi might not have the flashiest gameplay, but she more than makes up for it with her grit and belief, her hard-work and focus, a mature head on young shoulders, a strong desire to learn and improve everyday, and a clear understanding of her goals.

As she put it, “I want to add attacking strokes to my game, be more aggressive. Most importantly, I need to keep improving as a player everyday and that’s a lifelong process. “

From the archive: Self-trained junior national champ Aakarshi Kashyap eyeing the big league

.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Back to top button