For long, enough time has been wasted over the debate, 'who next after Saina Nehwal
and PV Sindhu
', and unfortunately, no clear answers have emerged so far. In fact, it seems like a futile debate after all; to be able to reach the level where the Indian badminton queens have operated for years on the trot, is not easy to replicate. Instead, it would be wise to focus on the best among the budding crop of players, and not burden them already.
We are blessed to see an era where as many as 15 singles female shuttlers are in the top 100 of the BWF Rankings, which gives our players enough competition domestically, to grow exponentially. And perhaps one player who seems to have used this wide pool of talent to her own advantage is the 21-year-old Aakarshi Kashyap.
In the year gone by, she has become the most sought-after player after Sindhu, and her career-best ranking of world no.32 shows just that. Still relatively inexperienced in beating the top international players, what Aakarshi did brilliantly throughout the year was to decimate her Indian compatriots whenever the opportunity came, and establish herself as the best in the country.
In October, she won the National Games gold, beating Malvika Bansod in the final 21-8, 22-20, despite carrying a knee injury. In the tournament, she also went past former world no.1 junior Tasnim Mir and Tanya Hemath. Not just this, but back in April, when the national trials for Sudirman Cup and Uber Cup were held, Kashyap won seven out of seven grueling matches which had some big fish like Tanya Hemanth, Aditi Bhatt, Unnati Hooda, and Ashmita Chaliha.
Look at the Indian Open 2022 now; she managed to reach the semis of the Super 500 tournament, where she beat compatriots Anura Prabhudesai, Keyura Mopati, and Malvika Bansod, before losing a close battle to Thailand
's Busanan Ongbamrungphan. All this by a player, who this time last year, wasn't enjoying the best of form, and had lost even to Riya Mookherjee and Aditi Bhatt at the selection trials.
"All I can say is, it turned out to be a satisfactory year for me. I performed well at the India Open in the beginning and then I did well in the selection trials; got selected in the CWG and won national games. In short, it turned out to be a year where I learned a lot.
"To do regularly well against such talented players in the country, you really need to be motivated; and all that is bringing out positive results for me. It's simple, you need to be at the top of your game always, and wins against Indian players will only help gain confidence to beat international players," Kashyap told SportsCafe.
Another major factor that brought about this year of a turnaround for Kashyap was a smarter selection of tournaments. She played a lot of international challenges and won tournaments in Maldives and Bangladesh. Apart from getting her some crucial ranking points, they just gave her a sense of belongingness at the top level. After all, a win at a relatively small tournament is better than a loss to senior players at a bigger event. This is exactly what her mentor, Pradeep Raju of the Suchithra Badminton Academy had told Scroll.in.
“The thing we decided when our association started was a better selection of tournaments. Instead of Super 100 and above, we got her to play a few international series and future series. International Challenges that saw her finish on the podium, gave her the belief that with hard work she can win international medals,” Raju had said.
But as is always the case, getting into the top 15, from 30 is a different ball game altogether. It would require immense levels of desire, fitness, and skill to reach, which only a few have dared to reach. For that too, Kashyap sounds ready and is not delusional at all. She has an idea of where she needs to put in the work.
"I would say, I just want to do my best and to achieve another highest rank by the end of 2023, and the ultimate goal is to qualify for the 2024 Olympics. I am working hard and I do realise there's a slight gap between my game and the elite-level players, so I am working to bridge that. I have got entry in big tournaments, so yeah, it is time do not just keep up the good work, but also better it," she concluded.
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