Ayush Shetty was barely eight years old when he first held a badminton racquet in his hand. Almost a decade later, at 18, he is a BWF World Junior Championships bronze medallist.
At a time when India was still in the middle of its historic Asian Games campaign in Hangzhou, the 6-foot tall Shetty cruised past Japan’s Yudai Okimoto 21-16, 21-17 in the men’s singles quarter-finals to secure himself a medal at Spokane, United States.
“In that quarter-final match I was rather calm – I never focused on the medal, I was just focusing on taking it point by point,” Shetty told Scroll.
“A day before the match, I did a bit of video analysis of the opponent with coach Park Tae-sang [PV Sindhu’s former coach] on what we wanted to do. I just played according to it and everything worked out.
“I did not really celebrate the win, because we had the semi-finals. So, I was just focused on that,” he added.
Shetty eventually went down 18-21, 15-21 to Alwi Farhan of Indonesia in the semi-finals to end his campaign with a bronze medal. The Indian led 16-14 in the first game, but was admittedly taken aback by Farhan’s serves as he conceded multiple points in a row.
The second game saw Shetty fight back from 4-12 down to equalise at 13-13 before the Indonesian raced away with the match and a spot in the final.
But Shetty’s bronze in Spokane was India’s 11th medal and sixth third-place finish in the BWF Junior World Championships history. The country has also won four silver and a solitary gold, won by Saina Nehwal way back in the 2008 edition of the tournament.
THE FIELD NEWSLETTER
Sign up for our special newsletter 'Game Points'
Despite his podium finish, Shetty admits that he was never truly a medal contender heading into Spokane. Having competed in back to back tournaments meant that he did not have proper time to train for the World Championships.
“Going into the competition I thought I had a chance if I played my best,” he said. “It was not a 100% given. I was completely fit but I did not have enough time to train as I was playing back to back [events]. We did have a 10-day camp and that was it.”
Hailing from Sanoor near Karkala in Karnataka, Shetty started off in badminton after watching his father play in their backyard. Shetty started to dominate the local badminton circuit with just his father around to guide him.
But the lack of proper badminton facilities in Sanoor meant that he was frequently ferried to Karkala and Mangalore for better training under coaches Subhash and Chethan.
By the time Shetty was 12, his father realised the pre-teen needed better opportunities to aid his development in the sport. That is when the decision was made for Shetty to relocate to Bengaluru along with his mother and younger sister.
“The initial few months were tough,” reflected Shetty. “But at that point I was only playing state and national level tournaments and not competing internationally, so the financial strain was not much.”
By this time, academics had also taken a firm backseat for Shetty with occasional appearances at school for the dreaded examinations.
While Shetty was a regular feature in the sub-junior and junior national competitions for a long time and spent almost all his time training, it was not until after the Covid-19 pandemic that he would win his first major title at the domestic circuit – the 2022 All India Junior Ranking Tournament in Bengaluru.
After his sojourn in Spokane, Shetty will next be in action at the upcoming India International Challenge later this month, before turning up for Karnataka at the National Games in Goa.
“I am done with the junior level,” he said. “The aim now is to start doing well in the International Challenge events and establish myself in the senior circuit.”
Shetty, who is now a sports science student, has continued to grow in stature. He is currently the highest ranked men’s singles junior shuttler in the country and has a World Championships medal in his pocket.
His journey, however, has just begun.