My aim this year is to be the best junior shuttler in the world: The Tribune India

Unnati Hooda

WE will be leaving for Bangkok on May 5 to represent the Indian squad in the Uber Cup, beginning May 8. I am very excited to be a part of the senior Indian badminton squad for the Uber Cup and the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, which begin on September 10. As most of the shuttlers are taking part in the Asian Championships in Manila, the camp has not begun but I hope to catch up with them soon. I am feeling a little nervous but more excited for such a big opportunity. It is my first big tournament but I will get to see new things and how top players train ahead of such tournaments. And, of course, the feeling of sporting the Tricolor on the T-shirt is so special.

I chose to go for the Uber Cup and Asian Games trials in Delhi and skipped the finals of the All India Ranking Championships (U-19) in Bengaluru. It was a bit risky but I was lucky to get selected by finishing third.

The last year-and-a-half has been lucky for me. I won the 2022 Odisha Open in Cuttack and reached the finals of the Infosys Foundation India International Challenge 2021 in Bengaluru. After the win at Cuttack in January, I was told that I had become the youngest Indian to win the Super 100 tournament. I still can’t believe that I am the youngest Indian shuttler to be selected in the squad for the Asian Games.

I am a big fan of PV Sindhu’s smashes. Growing up, I have always aspired to play like her. I’m hoping that I will get an opportunity to see her play and learn from her game.

As a shuttler, I want to build on my retrieving skills to make it tougher for my opponents. I take it as a challenge to learn new shots, deceptions, so that I can compete with top international players. However, the real joy on the court is when you do not give up, try harder and land a point. That is the biggest encouragement during the game.

I remember the time when I used to play in the street and fight over points and fouls. These things teach us to fight for every point. But to refine your strengths and remove your shortcomings, you have to train under a specialized coach in a competitive environment. These days, Rohtak has academies for almost every sport: badminton, wrestling, boxing, archery, cricket, football and hockey.

On regular days, I train for two hours in the morning and three in the evening. There are many boys and girls of my age who train even more. If I get time, I practice in the afternoon too. Now that I am in Class X (DGV Senior Secondary Public School, Rohtak) and preparing for international tournaments, managing time will be very tough but I have my father, Upkar Hooda, as my mentor-coach, my younger brother as my sparring partner and my coach, Parvesh Kumar, to make things easy for me. All of them have played a major role in my success.

My coach makes the schedule for training and decides which tournaments to take part in and which to skip. He is a hard taskmaster when it comes to punctuality and discipline.

My father, mother and grandfather are all from an academic background, yet they encourage me to do well in sports. My father quit his assistant professor’s job to support me, and my mother, a college principal, fully backs me in my wish to make a career in sports. Earlier, they were more keen on my studies but when they saw me perform in age group tournaments, they decided to let me concentrate on my game. The U-11, U-13 and U-15 national titles have only made me more determined.

My aim this year is to be the best junior shuttler in the world. I also want to improve my senior ranking. After the win at Odisha Open, my senior BWF ranking shot up from 418 to 217, a jump of 201 places. Currently, my ranking is world No. 234. I hope to play senior tournaments more often to improve my ranking. A top-100 ranking by the end of this year would be great.

– The writer, a rising badminton star, is based in Rohtak

(As told to Gaurav Kanthwal)

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