Rutuparna Panda clinched the doubles crown in the All India senior ranking badminton tournament on Sunday by winning the women’s and mixed doubles finals with relative ease. Four days later the 19-year-old from Odisha is gearing up to repeat the same feat in Bangalore but with different partners.

In Kozhikode, Panda and Rohan Kapoor did not drop a singles game enroute to the mixed doubles title while she and K Maneesha lost just one game against national champions Shikha Gautam and Ashwini Bhat in five women’s doubles matches.

However, Kapoor had to leave immediately for the Badminton Asia Championship in Wuhan where he teamed up with Kuhoo Garg while Maneesha opted to skip the tournament in Bangalore, leaving Panda no choice but to play with two new partners – Dhruv Kapila in mixed and the inexperienced Keyura Mopati in women’s doubles.

Rutuparna Panda and Rohan Kapoor
Rutuparna Panda and Rohan Kapoor

There is a lot of similarity between the way things have panned out in these two weeks and Panda’s two-year journey in India’s elite badminton circuit ever since her breakthrough performance at the senior nationals in Nagpur in November 2017.

A relatively unknown Panda, whose first brush with formal coaching only started earlier that year, had then teamed up with UK Mithula by a stroke of luck and went on to reach the women’s doubles semi-finals and was talked about as a future prospect in a talent-starved paired event.

Since then, Panda has performed consistently well in the domestic circuit and even impressed in her limited exposure on the international tour but as luck would have it, she has failed to get a considerable run thanks to injuries to her partners are some other problems.

Mithula and Panda made an instant impact in the junior international circuit before the former was diagnosed with avascular necrosis, a condition in which bone tissues die due to interruption of blood supply, in April 2018 and was unable to play for almost eight months.

During that period, Panda forged a partnership with Aarti Sara Sunil and went on to win the All Indian National Ranking title in Bangalore, in their very first tournament together, and reached the final in the subsequent week in Hyderabad to make it to the Asian Games team.

The duo then went on to clinch the Hellas Open title in October 2018 before a stress injury started troubling Aarti at the Dubai International the very next month.

This meant that the combination did not get an entry in the senior nationals in February this year and now that Aarti has been diagnosed with a stress fracture, Panda has again been left with the job of hunting a new regular partner.

Rutuparna Panda (right) with K Maneesha after winning the women's doubles title.
Rutuparna Panda (right) with K Maneesha after winning the women's doubles title.

“Injuries are a part and parcel of the game and I can’t blame my partners for it. It’s possible that even I can get injured. I don’t think about all these things and just try to give my best whenever I am on court,” Panda told from Bangalore.

The 19-year-old insists that she doesn’t even think too much about how lack of consistent partners affect her performance since she believes that she is still learning the tricks of the trade and has a long way to go before consistently performing on the international stage.

“Whenever, I have played on the international circuit, I have tried to understand my limitations and then work on those areas in training without thinking too much about next tournament or performances,” Panda said, adding she is yet to have a chat with the two new Indonesian coaches about their plan for her in either mixed or women’s doubles.

“As of now, I just concentrating on working on my speed and strength and I am willing to play with anyone the coaches want me to play with. My current goal is just to do well in Bangalore and nothing else,” she added.

It would be interesting to see whether she can repeat the feat in Kozhikode with the new partners. She has already won one round in mixed doubles while her women’s doubles campaign is yet to start.