Aakarshi Kashyap is a tough nut to crack, but has had a pretty challenging week herself as an unseeded contender, battling it out for her first senior national title. Tanya Hemanth in the early rounds, Purva Barve in the pre-quarters and the tall Devika Sihag in the last 8, each opponent took the opening game off her as she took her time to find her length and range.
The semifinal against Adita Rao was relatively easier, 21-9, 21-19. But Rao too was threatening to push a decider before a finals spot was secured.
How does the modestly-built Aakarshi, with her relentless drives and retrieving game, always manage to win domestically?
She might not be right up there physically to make dents on the international stage, but mentally she remains a dogged fighter at home. This includes maintaining her pace even when rallies get longer in the third game, and shrugging off the loss of the opening game while she gets a read on opponents’ games, match after punishing match.
Badminton: Its going to be Aakarshi Kashyap Vs Anupama Upadhyaya in Final of National Championships tomorrow.
➡️ Aakarshi beat Aditi Rao 21-9, 21-19.
➡️ Anupama beat Ashmita Chaliha 21-18, 11-21, 21-18.
🏸 Both Sindhu & Saina had skipped the tournament. pic.twitter.com/lIPL5jGcm6
— India_AllSports (@India_AllSports) February 27, 2023
It’s how she’s won trials earlier, it’s how she’s fought at these Pune Nationals, and it’s how she has become India’s No. 2 after PV Sindhu. “Not being seeded doesn’t matter. You have to play them in Round 1 or in the finals. It’s bound to be tough. I just look at it as exciting, the variety of opponents,” Aakarshi says. While she neutralised Barve’s deception, Sihag’s steep attack and Hemanth’s all-round play, fighting off match points even, it’s Aakarshi’s determination that brings her into the final, even as Ashmita Chaliha and Malvika Bansod couldn’t quite hold their forts.
Against Adita, she would drag her to the forecourt lunge knowing she was carrying a knee injury. There would also be the two taps in the end where the racquets would clang. But Aakarshi prevailed in the crunch.
In Anupama Upadhyay, Aakarshi will see a mirror image of her determination, as the 17-year-old is here “for the title” and nothing less. The Almora teenager, due to give her board exams “just for passing marks”, did more than pass the test against Ashmita Chaliha by slowing down the game and defending solidly, which frustrated the stroke-making Chaliha.
It also boiled down to Upadhyay knowing she had more in the tank for the third game than Chaliha did. “It’s only my second senior nationals, so it is great to make the finals. When she was not in her flow, I took the opportunity, but in the third, I was more confident and had more strength in the rallies,” she would say.
Having started playing in 2014, the youngster has moved from Almora to Bengaluru and the Padukone academy, but has been training under childhood coach Rohit Mandhan at Panchkula the last few months owing to her 12th board exams.
When she last played Aakarshi in Bangladesh, there were a bunch of mistakes she doesn’t want to repeat again. “I’ll try not to make mistakes like in that third game and fight from the start,” she says.
Priyanshu vs Mithun in men’s final
It will be a battle of the academies as Hyderabad’s Priyanshu Rajawat will take on Bengaluru’s Mithun Manjunath in the men’s singles final.
Rajawat, dubbed ‘Baby Srikanth’ owing to the similarity in their strokes, could’ve ended up playing the original one. But Srikanth was beaten in the second semifinal by Manjunath 21-19, 21-13.
Rajawat might only be 21, but he has spent a dozen years already at the Gopichand Academy, and has received focused attention from the coach during their 8.30 am sessions, marking him out to be the heir apparent. The ambition too is sharpened now.
“Nothing about badminton is monotonous. I wake up for every morning session and give a 100 percent in practice. No masti (fun), no junk food, no mobile phones at night. I want to become the world’s best player, that’s the only thought,” he says.
It was a relatively easier semifinal against Harsheel Dani, prevailing 21-14, 21-15. Winning the Thomas Cup trials changed everything for Rajawat, who says he learnt discipline from Srikanth and aggression from HS Prannoy. Though he was the baby of the Thomas Cup team and didn’t play the key matches, Rajawat says he’s ready to take on the mantle of defending the crown, “so that people don’t say that India randomly won once or won by fluke. We want to continue the legacy and defend the title,” he says.
First up though is the national title. And in Manjunath, Priyanshu has a tricky opponent who can improvise on court, has the defence to withstand smashes and can manoeuvre his game like he did against Srikanth in the semis despite trailing initially.
Srikanth had a smash fest going before Mithun cut out the elevation he was giving his strokes to take the shot out of the equation. Keeping the shuttle down, and in play, is what Mithun did in countering Srikanth’s attack. Mithun would also deny the former World No.1 the counter-dribble, and finally tweeze out errors by depriving him of his favoured attacking game.
A trainee at the Padukone academy, Mithun had at best made the last round of qualifying at the nationals but is hoping to pick his first national crown.