Ashmita Chaliha had been making waves in the Indian domestic circuit in the past nine months and even had two international titles to her name. Due to her joyous style of play, ease of movement and quality strokes, many have been raving about the 19-year-old.

But there are always doubters around. And Chaliha had a chance to prove a point in the match against the reigning queen of Indian badminton PV Sindhu on her home turf in the semi-finals of the Senior National Badminton championship on Friday.

(Results of all the semi-final matches, here)

That she lost the match in straight games — 10-21, 20-22 — in 38 minutes wasn’t a surprise but the 19-year-old can definitely hold her head high, for she not only managed to stay in the contest for long but also came within two points of bagging a game against the world No 6.

Chaliha started nervously, making a flurry of errors and needed a pep talk from coach Edwin Iriawan at the mid-game break. She responded by pushing Sindhu in playing the longest rally of the match on the second point after the break and won it with her trademark down-the-line smash.

More than winning the point, the way she constructed it, with her superior net dribbles and two quick taps, attracted applause from the crowd at the TRP stadium.

Improved second game

Though the game was lost, Chaliha’s body language was clearly changing and the stiffness in the shoulders was giving way to a more relaxed demeanor in the second game.

She dropped points through unforced errors, like she did in the first game. But a while after, she was chasing down the shuttle, diving to retrieve smashes and created more chances.

It did help her cause that Sindhu made a couple of errors while leading 13-8 and Chaliha grabbed the initiative by winning another long rally in which she threw herself on the ground at least couple of times to keep the shuttle in play.

That was one of the best period of play for Chaliha in the match as she won nine of the 10 points from 8-13 to take a 17-14 lead and it looked like she could force a decider as she kept her nose ahead at 19-17. But Sindhu’s experience and change in tempo helped her wrest the initiative back from the 19-year-old as she made two unforced errors to hand the top-seed her first match point.

Chaliha saved that but Sindhu did not give her another opportunity and wrapped up the match with a smash.

“I just got nervous (while leading 19-17),” Chaliha said after the match. “I started thinking about Sindhu being on the other side of the court and mistakes happened.”

Asked about the takeaways from the encounter and her performance in the past few months, Chaliha said she had to work a lot on her consistency and physical strength.

“I am doing a lot of standing strokes during training to become consistent. At the same time, ever since Edwin sir has come, we are working on my strength and speed. I feel that I also need to improve on my net game a lot,” said the Dubai and Tata Open champion.

Sindhu pointed out the progress Chaliha has made since their last meeting – in the team event of the Inter-State team championship in Vijaywada in 2015.

“Her strokes have definitely improved and she has been playing really well of late. I watched her play even during the Asian Games [Chaliha was part of the squad but did not play a match] and if she keeps working hard, she will be a player to look out for,” said Sindhu.

The top seed will now face Saina Nehwal, who defeated Vaishnavi Bhale 21-15, 21-14 in the other semifinal.