“It’s because of him that I took up badminton.”

For Krishna Prasad Garaga, 2021 was an important year that ended on a tough note. In March, when all eyes were on the Tokyo Olympics qualification cycle and how Saina Nehwal, Srikanth Kidambi et al fare at Orelans Masters Super 100, Krishna and Vishnuvardhan Goud Panjala made a superb run to the final of the tournament in what was their first international tournament together as a pair. It was a performance that made Indian badminton fans sit up and take notice... some impressive performances against some solid international opponents. A new doubles pair to keep an eye on.

In December, just a couple of days before the senior ranking tournament in Hyderabad, Krishna Prasad’s father Gangadharam died, aged 51. The 21-year-old doubles specialist had to leave practice at the academy in Hyderabad and return home to Kakinada. Once he completed the rites, though, he had to take a call whether to return to Hyderabad and play the tournament. He did... and at the end of the week, he was the men’s doubles winner alongside his partner Vishnuvardhan.

“Last two weeks of December were difficult. He was admitted and when I spoke to doctors, they said everything was fine,” Krishna Prasad told Scroll.in. “But on 24th when I went to practice, he had a stroke twice in the afternoon. It was a difficult day [when he passed], then I went back to Kakinada [hometown] for all the rituals... then I came back on 27th and I spoke to Vishnu about it. He had said ‘whatever you want to do, we’ll do’. If my dad was there, he’d have wanted me to play. So I entered the tournament.”

And playing through the pain of dealing with his father’s loss, Krishna managed to hang in there and with the support of his partner, finished the year with a title that marked their status as domestically one of the best pairs going around. It offered him a chance to reflect on his journey, of which his father was a huge part.

“He wanted to play for India too, he pushed me also towards it. He was very happy with what I was doing, he was always watching my matches, he was always coming to tournaments... he was my coach before I joined the academy. He trained me, he has himself played at the Universities level. He was very supportive from the start, whatever I did he helped me and advised me, on my game too. It was a great strength to have him behind me, I used to even look at him after some of the points. If I felt pressure or blanking on the court, I used to look at him and get the confidence from him,” he added.

But in Hyderabad, that strength came from his partner. Once he decided to take part in the event, he relied on Vishnuvardhan to come through the four days of matches.

“Spoke to my mother and my father’s sister and they said if you want to go play, and that is what he wanted you to do for a long time, that is the best thing to do. I did all my rituals beforehand, so just for those three-four days, I decided to play. It was not easy. Difficult in the first two rounds, but my partner was helping me on the court. I didn’t have to do much, he just told me to play normally and enjoy the game. I didn’t talk much before the matches too, but in between I was zoning out and he handled it. He offered me strength,” Krishna said.

And with doubles badminton in India entering a good phase, Krishna has set his targets high. He has been through a few partners in his young career already, having played junior world championships with both Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Dhruv Kapila, who have since moved on to different pairs. But with the good results in recent times with Vishnuvardhan, he is hoping for a breakthrough soon enough.

“My father always wanted, from when I was young, for me to play for India. And I had won some medals for India in South Asian Games... last year I played Thomas Cup, he was quite happy with all that. My dream is to play for India at the Olympics and win a medal for the country. That is my target... Paris, Los Angeles. I am trying hard for it,” he said.

And that dream begins with the India Open, where Krishna Prasad and Vishnuvardhan are seeded seventh and could make another deep run.

(Update: The pair lost in the opening round of the India Open on Wednesday.)