Sunday, 15 September, can be etched in the annals of Indian badminton as a day in which Indian badminton’s bench strength in both singles and doubles was on glorious display at four different spots on the international map.
While reigning Indian national champion Sourabh Verma captured his second World Tour Super 100 title of the season, the Vietnam Open in Ho Chi Minh city saw, teenager Lakshya Sen straddle the rostrum at the Belgian International Challenge, and 23-year-old Mumbai left-hander, Kaushal Dharmamer, took top honours in the Myanmar International in Yangon.
Added to these three singles title triumphs were two doubles crowns won at the Dubai Junior International Series 2019 – top-seeded Tanisha Crasto and Aditi Bhatt clinched the women’s doubles title at the expense of fellow-countrywomen Treesa Jolly and Varshini with a 21-17, 21-17 result; and Ayan Rashid paired up with Tasnim Mir to bag the mixed doubles crown with a desperately close 21-16, 22-24, 21-19 triumph over Indonesian Galuh Putra and UAE girl Zainab Siraj.
Undoubtedly though, the best result of the lot was the one produced by 26-year-old Verma, sitting on the 38th spot in the Badminton World Federation (BWF) rankings. The Dhar (Madhya Pradesh) native has been consistently eclipsed in the last couple of years by his younger brother and Pullela Gopichand Academy batch-mate, Sameer, who currently occupies the 16th position in the BWF rankings, and had sensationally reached the semi-finals of the year-ending World Tour grand finals at Guangzhou in December 2018.
Somehow, Sourabh has not quite been able to fully actualise his talent, despite winning the country’s national title thrice, the last time in February 2019 at the expense of his 24-year-old younger sibling. Those with long memories will remember his capture of the Indian national men’s singles title in 2011, when he was still just 18 years of age. The following year, he attained a career-high world ranking of 30, but then could not claw his way higher up the BWF ladder.
Nevertheless, over the past two seasons, he has clinched four World Tour Super 100 international titles, three of them with gutsy, hard-fought three-game victories. He launched his stirring run at the 2018 Russian Open with a 18-21, 21-12, 21-17 win over Japan’s Koki Watanabe, and went on to bag the Dutch Open with a more facile 21-19, 21-13 triumph over Malaysia’s Cheam June Wei.
Earlier this year, he followed up his capture of the Indian National crown with the Hyderabad Open title, edging Singapore’s Loh Kean Yew by a 21-13, 14-21, 21-16 scoreline. And now comes his most significant victory – at 21-12, 17-21, 21-14 in the Vietnam Open final over the redoubtable Chinese player, Sun Feixiang, being touted in his country as a fast-rising star. Indeed, Feixiang appears to have become Sourav’s 'bunny' after losing to the Indian thrice this year – in Canada, India and Vietnam.
En route to the final, the second-seeded Sourabh demolished most of the up-and-coming players from the formidable Japanese contingent, with straight-games wins over the 2018 Youth Olympics bronze medallist Kodai Naraoka (at 22-20, 22-20), the resilient Yu Igarashi (at 25-23, 24-22) and left-hander Minoru Koga (22-20, 21-15). Also noteworthy was his 21-13, 21-18 quarter-final victory over the home favourite, veteran Nguyen Tien Minh (at 36, one of the oldest players on the world circuit), who has been Vietnam’s best shuttler during the ongoing decade.
Moving on to the fabulous victory of Sen in Belgium, the talented reigning Asian junior champion and Youth Olympics silver medallist from the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy in Bangalore, produced a 21-14, 21-15 win in the Belgian International Challenge summit clash over Denmark’s Victor Svendsen.
Lakshya, who celebrated his 18th birthday last month, slots in at a relatively lowly 81st in the BWF rankings, and is forced to play the Challenger circuit, being unable to secure direct entry into the Super 100 tournaments, the lowest among the elite range of World Tour competitions.
“Historically, Belgium is believed to be one of the toughest Challenger events of the European circuit, but Lakshya managed to win the tournament without breaking a sweat,” said Sen’s India team-mate and doubles specialist, Shlok Ramchandran.
“Admittedly, he did have some luck in his favour after he was given a walkover in the quarter-finals by top-seeded Mark Caljouw, after the Dutchman sprained his ankle in his pre-quarter-finals win over another Indian, BM Rahul. But take nothing away from the young Indian, who beat the experienced Danes, Kim Bruun (at 21-18, 21-11) in the semi-final, and Svendsen in the final,” Ramachandran added.
Lakshya played fairly consistently through 2018 but has gone through a somewhat topsy-turvy 2019 season, with some disappointing performances in recent tournaments. He has particularly been having trouble against Thailand’s Kunlavut Vitidsarn, whom he trails 2-3 in career head-to-heads, with losses in their two most recent meetings in the Orleans Masters and Polish Open. He had also lost to the 50th ranked Thai at the semi-final stage of the World Junior Championships.
“With good outings at the Polish Open and Chinese Masters earlier this year, and now this win at the Belgian International Challenge, could well be the breakthrough performance he has been looking for all year; and he could start producing quality performances at higher tier events,” says Ramchandran. “Watch out for Super Sen in the coming months!”
While Sen has a great chance of capturing the World Junior title in what will be his final year as a junior, the progress made by 23-year-old Dharmamer in the past five years has not been commensurate with his talent and ability. Particularly in the past couple of years, the Mumbai-based southpaw has been dogged by injuries, and his over-reliance on diet supplements has played havoc with his general health.
It was therefore pleasing to see him make a strong statement in Yangon by outlasting Indonesia’s Karono Karono 18-21, 21-14, 21-11, getting steadily stronger as the hour-long final wore on. The third-seeded Dharmamer, a losing semi-finalist at the 2019 Indian Nationals, had settled the pretensions of another up-and-coming Indonesian, Krishna Adi Nugraha, by a one-sided 21-10, 21-14 scoreline in the penultimate round, after having a torrid time against compatriot Ansal Yadav (21-10, 16-21, 21-13) in the quarter-finals.
It will be against the backdrop of this fine display by the second-stringers that the frontline Indian squad will make its way to Changzhou for the prestigious China Open, which starts on Tuesday and offers a purse of one million dollars in prize money.
Updated Date: Sep 16, 2019 13:38:38 IST