Aakarshi Kashyap is a 17-year-old but she talks with the confidence of an experienced athlete. She has no qualms in stating her convictions regarding anything you ask her, which is rather rare in India’s junior national badminton circuit, where teenaged shuttlers are mostly shy and reserved when interacting with the media.

Thus, after successfully defending her junior national title on Saturday in Lucknow, when Kashyap said that she considered her omission from India’s squad for the BWF World Junior Championships last month as a blessing in disguise, the statement did not come across as much of a surprise.

Kashyap had lost in the quarter-finals and semi-finals of the two selection tournaments for the world juniors, and was therefore omitted from the squad despite being the top-ranked Under-19 shuttler in the country.

The two girls who beat her in those tournaments, Purva Barve and Gayatri Gopichand, were picked in the squad, along with the winner of both tournaments, Malvika Bansod. In the end, none of the three shuttlers managed to go past the third round in Canada.

Blessing in disguise

Kashyap had never gone past the round of 32 in her two previous appearances at the world juniors and did not think she would do any better this year. “Not being selected for the world juniors worked out better for me,” she said.

“I have not performed well in the world juniors and I was not confident I would win a medal [this time]. My aim was to utilise the days during the world juniors in the right way by playing senior tournaments and improving my ranking.”

So, while her peers went to Canada for the world juniors, Kashyap participated in the Dubai International Challenge, but lost in the first round to a 27-year-old Korean, Joo Hee Lee, in three games. At the Syed Modi International the following week, Kashyap went down 16-21, 17-21 to world No 49 Dinar Dyah Ayustine, again in the first round. At the Tata Open International Challenge the week after that, she lost in the quarter-finals 18-21, 16-21 to Vrushali G, who went on to win silver.

Kashyap then participated in an All-India senior ranking tournament in Bengaluru earlier this month and reached the final, after beating senior shuttlers such as Shreyanshi Pardeshi (top seed), Anura Prabhudesai (4th seed) and Rituparna Das (9th seed). However, she lost in the final to the in-form Ashmita Chaliha in straight games.

“I could have beaten Ashmita, but I let the pressure get the best of me,” said Kashyap, who trains at the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy in Bengaluru. “I had not done well in the last two or three tournaments. The junior national championship was my last tournament of 2018, so winning it has banished all my sorrows,” she added, laughing.

Overcoming a slow start

In the junior nationals final, Kashyap overcame a very slow start to beat third seed Barve in straight games. The start of the match had been delayed by about 20 minutes by the organisers, which affected Kashyap’s pre-match warm-up routine.

“I was trailing 1-9 in the first game and I think there is only one reason for that,” she said. “My match was after the boys singles final, which ended at around 4.10 pm. My warm-up was done by then and I was ready to go on court, but they told me that my match would begin only at 4.30 pm, so there was a delay of 15-20 minutes. My warm-up was affected, but after those first 8-9 points, my movement became better.”

Kashyap had lost to Barve in their previous two meetings on the national circuit and she was determined to end that run on Saturday. “After the first game’s interval, my only plan was to return her first six to seven shots by hook or crook,” she said.

Kashyap upped her pace after the interval and avoided playing slow strokes. She was also a lot more alert on her forehand side after service because Barve had won a lot of points by pushing the shuttle there and trapping Kashyap.

“When I started doing that, I got the points automatically as she started committing mistakes,” the shuttler from Bhilai said. “After that, I knew that once she was mentally down, I would win. She started trying new strokes and deception, and ended up conceding points.”

After winning the final 21-17, 21-8, Kashyap said she was thrilled to have defended her national title but believes she can do a lot better. “I need to work on my half smashes; from the front of the court, I need to work on quick shots from the net, pushes, and quick crosses; from the back, I need to work on finishing strokes,” she said.

For 2019, which will be Kashyap’s final season as a junior, she said her aim is to focus more on senior tournaments. If she does that, perhaps she would be more confident ahead of the world juniors this time.