The Verma brothers, Sourabh and Sameer, are acknowledged as among the hardest workers at the Pullela Gopichand Badminton Academy in Gachibowli, Hyderabad. And yet, until recently, they were only being counted among the second-rung contenders in the Indian badminton ladder, not to be spoken of in the same breath as Kidambi Srikanth, HS Prannoy and B Sai Praneeth. Or even, for that matter, the 2014 Commonwealth Games gold medallist, Parupalli Kashyap.
Yet, by winning two international tournaments in recent months, and figuring in the finals of both the tournaments held within the country to select the Indian team for the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, the 25-year-old elder sibling is making followers of Indian badminton sit up and take notice afresh.
Sourabh had the distinction of winning the Dutch Open at the Topsportcentrum Almere in the Netherlands on Sunday, knocking out the No 1 seed, Mark Caljouw of the Netherlands (at 21-18, 21-19 in the semi-finals), and Malaysia’s June Wei Cheam (at 21-19, 21-13 in the final), in successive rounds, to win the men’s singles crown in the $75,000 tournament.
The only game he dropped during the course of an outstanding outing was in the quarter-final against Frenchman Thomas Rouxel (21-16, 16-21, 21-17). He was arguably at his best in the penultimate round against the top-seeded Caljouw, playing in front of his home crowds, in his country’s own tournament.
“This is a very encouraging win for Sourabh,” said national coach Gopichand. “I appreciate that the Dutch Open is not one of the major tournaments on the circuit with the status of a Superseries (now known as the World Tour), but it is still a tournament with a reasonably strong field, with good participation from several European nations, plus a handful of Malaysians.
“Over the past few months, Sourabh has been pretty consistent, as can be seen from his victories in Russia and the Dutch Open, and in the two selection tournaments in Hyderabad and Bangalore, to pick the Indian team for the Asian Games. Sourabh won one of those two selection tournaments, and was the runner-up in the other.
“Mind you, all the aspirants for the national team, with the exception of the ‘A’ listers like Srikanth, Prannoy and Sai Praneeth took part in Hyderabad and Bangalore. Lakshya Sen, for example, was there in the fray. So, if Sourabh could finish in the finals of both the selection tournaments, it shows that he is playing well.”
Gopichand feels that the Dhar (Madhya Pradesh) native, who first won the Indian Nationals in 2011, is playing to his true potential these days, and that he has been working on his strengths. “Sourabh is one whom you can always trust to get results,” was the generous praise heaped on his ward by the 2001 All England champion, who, with shuttle queen Saina Nehwal, is credited with bringing about a renaissance in the sport in this country.
Does this string of triumphs in recent months signal a similar turnaround in fortunes for Sourabh, who currently languishes at the 62nd position in the Badminton World Federation (BWF) standings? The lad had hit a career-high mark of 30th on 25 October, 2012 as a raw 19-year-old, but has thereafter always languished outside the top 30, only touching the 31st spot on 10th April 2014, and repeating that feat on 24 August last year. Tantalisingly on the brink of breaking back into the top 30.
Yet, in this matter, Sourabh has been overshadowed by his younger brother, Sameer who, incidentally, will celebrate his 24th birthday on 22nd October, a week after his projected opening-round duel in the Danish Open at Odense with the No 3 seed from China, Shi Yuqi.
Sameer has consistently been ranked among the top 30 in the world over the past year, but for a brief bad patch on 22nd February this year, when he fell to his lowest recent point of 46. The younger Verma attained his highest career ranking of 17 on 13th September this year, but currently occupies the 23rd berth on the BWF charts.
Whereas Sameer has the Syed Modi International title and a Superseries final behind him — the 2016 Hong Kong Open, where he stunned the then World No 3, Jan O Jorgensen of Denmark, on his way to the summit clash — Sourabh lacks the stamp of a Superseries final against his name. His best achievements at international level remain the Bahrain International Challenge, the Russian Open and now the Dutch Open.
It is his lowly ranking that prevents Sourabh from showing off his wares at the Danish Open, where the Indian team will be out in full strength, with Srikanth, Prannoy, Sai Praneeth and Sameer all winning berths in the men’s singles draw on the strength of their rankings among the world’s top 32 players.
Sourabh will have to work his way up the ranks from his current 62nd position on the BWF standings, if he is to cross swords with the world’s best. And that, as coach Gopichand asserts, is well within the scope of the senior Verma’s capabilities.
Updated Date: Oct 15, 2018 17:40 PM