Fresh from winning both selection tournaments for the 2018 world junior championships, Malvika Bansod is looking forward to make the next 30 days count before she heads to Markham, Canada, with the Indian team.
Malvika, 17, expectedly made the 24-member Indian squad that was announced by the Badminton Association of India on Saturday. This is the second straight year the Nagpur girl has qualified for the world juniors, although she played doubles in 2017. She, and partner Deeksha Choudhari, had lost in the round of 32 in Indonesia last year but Bansod now hopes to go much further in singles, which is her preferred event.
“It feels really great to qualify for the world juniors in first position,” Malvika told Scroll.in after the squad was announced. “I’d like to better my performance from last year and make the country proud. This will be my first outing in the singles at the world juniors so I’ll just try to give my best.”
Malvika, an attacking left-handed shuttler, played 12 matches in a span of 10 days across the two selection tournaments, coming out on top in both. In both Chandigarh and Panchkula, her semi-final and final matches were far from straightforward affairs. In Chandigarh, there was nothing to separate her and the fast-rising Gayatri Gopichand till 26-26 in the first game.
“I think I could have beaten her under 15 because I had a lead of like 18-12, but then she also increased the pace of her game and started playing very well,” Malvika said. “The game went up to 26-26 before I managed to convert the last two points.” The second game was also a tight affair, as the 15-year-old Gayatri engaged Malvika in rallies, before the latter came through 21-19.
The two met again in the final of the Panchkula tournament, where they took each other into three games, resulting in an even longer match. “I could have won in straight games again,” Malvika said. After winning the first game comfortably 21-11, Malvika was trailing 17-20 in the second game as Gayatri again upped the tempo. “I managed to make it 20-20, but then one silly error from my side and a winner from her side gave her the game,” Malvika said.
“In the third game, I played really well and won by a comfortable margin. I had an eight-point lead at one point but she again stepped up her game and came up to 15,” she added.
Winning both selection tournaments is a “big confidence booster” for Malvika ahead of the world juniors. “Two back-to-back titles was a record for me itself,” she said. “I’m playing well and am in good form so I’ll try to continue that up to the world juniors.”
Qualifying for the world juniors at the top of her class felt even better for Malvika considering she had failed to make the cut for the Asian junior championships earlier this year. The 17-year-old had lost in the quarter-finals of the only selection tournament for the continental event and, as a result, was not picked in the squad.
“I had a bad day in Tirupur and missed out, so I had focussed on these two tournaments [in Chandigarh and Panchkula] since long,” she said. “I started training more specifically towards my weak points and modified my training schedule a bit. I’m happy I made it this time.”
On the BAI’s new policy of designating national ranking tournaments as selection tournaments for major championships, Malvika said it’s a good idea as long as players are given enough chances. “Holding selection tournaments is a good idea because they help us to test the form of the players before the main tournament,” she said.
“But I think there should be more than one selection tournament because people can have a bad day at times,” she said. “They should have another chance to prove themselves within a week or two. Two tournaments is ideal.”
Malvika put the Tirupur disappointment behind her and won the silver medal at the India Junior International in Pune in August. She lost to the country’s top-ranked under-19 shuttler, Aakarshi Kashyap, in the final. “I expected to win against Aakarshi but lost,” she said. “But reaching the final on home turf was really a confidence booster.”
Malvika will now head back to Panchkula on October 15 for the 15-day-long national camp organised by BAI for the world juniors, which starts on November 5 in Canada. At the camp, she plans to focus on her strength, which is her attacking nature, and also work on physical training.
If the 17-year-old manages to carry her good form into Canada, there is no reason why she can’t become the first Indian woman since Saina Nehwal in 2008 to win a medal at the world juniors.