Know Your Heroes | Sameer Verma - the small-towner who made it big

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Know Your Heroes | Sameer Verma - the small-towner who made it big

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SportsCafe Desk

08/19/2018

Though Sameer Verma’s World Championships campaign ended after an early defeat against the legendary Lin Dan in the pre-quarterfinals, the match will be remembered for his audacious no-look shot that stunned the crowd. Ahead of Asiad, the World No. 21 talks about his preparation and chances.

Coming from the small town of Dhar, Madhya Pradesh, Sameer Verma broke into the scene of international badminton when he reached far in the World Junior Badminton Championship and Asian Junior Badminton Championships. While he won a bronze in the World Championships in 2012, he managed to do one better and clinch a silver in the Asian tournament later that year. But, Sameer scoffs at the statement of him making it big from a small town and completely ignores his achievements that he managed at such a young age.

“Nowadays, most of the players are emerging from small cities and places. So, we can't term a place small or big in that regard. Even, MS Dhoni belongs to a relatively remote city,” affirms Sameer, who has otherwise been very polite.

Though 2011 was his claim to fame season from the junior level and he had to battle injuries soon after it, Sameer has always kept knocking the door of opportunities every now and then. At the 36th Junior National Badminton Championships in 2012, which was held in Jaipur, Sameer ended as the winner in the boys' singles U-19 category. He also managed to reach the final of the Iran Open in the same year.

Injuries in those years had definitely stunted the growth of a promising young talent and one could understand the regret and helplessness in his voice when he goes down the memory lane.

“Yeah, I would say there was a certain amount of regret I felt as my performance was the best among the juniors. So, I was definitely upset with the fact that I could not play the World Championship as it was my last year as a junior. First, I bagged a bronze as a junior and then I got my injury. However, I was assured that something good would come out of it eventually.”

 © Getty

However, once he had left the dark phase behind, Sameer started taking giant strides towards progress in 2015. He started 2015 by reaching the round of 32 of Syed Modi International Badminton Championships, the quarter-finals of the India Open and Vietnam Open. The next year, he reached the quarter-finals of Thailand Masters, quarter-finals of the All England Open, the semis of the Bitburger Open, and the final of the Hong Kong Open. He had created headlines back then when he overcame the then world No 3 Jan O Jorgensen in straight games in Hong Kong Open semis.

All the wins and progression into the rounds near summit clashes eventually paid off the next year, when Sameer won the Syed Modi International Badminton Championships by beating compatriot B Sai Praneeth 21-19, 21-16 in the final. He had also beaten higher ranked Hans-Kristian Vittinghus on his way to the quarter finals of the same tournament.

Since then, Sameer has become more of a regular name on the international circuit with his World ranking hovering between 18 and 21. However, for Sameer, the biggest concern is still his fitness and he lives in the apprehension of missing out tournaments if his injuries reoccur. 

“The main focus would be to save myself from any kind of injuries. Then I'll concentrate on my performance. Because it was that I used to play for a month and then I used to get injured for two. So, I have to prevent myself from getting injured, then only I can perform,” he says.

Sameer Verma’s name can be taken in the same breath as his brother Sourabh Verma. Though he is yet to reach the high ranking that his brother has, he recently made headlines by winning the Russia Open, which was followed by India’s World Championships campaign. Both the brothers had started playing from a very early age and seen each other’s ups and downs.

“I started playing badminton when I was seven. I used to go with my Brother, our father used to take us. We started together and continued as we were winning district and states. Next year also we performed and continued playing after that. I developed an inclination for badminton from there.”

Apart from his brother, who he says was his inspiration while growing up, Sameer’s biggest change in career came when he moved to Gopichand Badminton Academy in Hyderabad at an early age. Training under the former All-England champions has helped him in a big way.

“He is obviously an inspiration. You get to learn new things everyday and when your coach is such a legendary player, the atmosphere is completely different around there. There are a lot of things we get to learn in course.”

The third-ranked national player is among the emerging crop of Indian badminton players, who have taken the once leader by their scruff to announce their arrival on the international circuit. Saina Nehwal, in many ways, was a pioneer to the new era of adamant shuttlers, who has since then seen the likes of PV Sindhu, Kidambi Srikanth, Praneeth, HS Prannoy, and Sameer coming up in singles, and the likes of N Sikki Reddy, Chirag Shetty, and Swastiksairaj Rankireddy in doubles. 

The competition at the national level has also never been so fierce, as it is now and it has helped sharpen the players. Apart from beating Praneeth in the Syed Modi, Sameer also faced his brother in the Grand Prix, emerging as the winner on both occasions. However, a decent Sameer doesn’t quite take his achievements with pompous strides.

Like most of his comments, he wrote them off with a small acknowledgment. “It was really a nice experience wise. I had my Swiss finals in 2016 and claimed the GP gold at Lucknow.”

India’s squad going into the Asian Games has shown a good blend of youth and experience. Sameer will also find his brother, Sourabh, on the trip as the selection committee decided to select players based on their performance rather than ranking by organizing two senior ranking tournaments in Bangalore and Hyderabad. Hence, India’s baddie squad would see lesser-known names like Ashmita Chaliha, Sai Uttejitha Rao, Gayathri Gopichand, Akarshi Kashyap, Rutuparna Panda, and Aarthi Sara.

Asian Games look like a win-win situation for Sameer so far. With the likes of Srikanth, Sindhu and Nehwal taking centre stage, the spotlight won’t be on Sameer, allowing him to play without much pressure and stun the crowd.

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