Building on her impressive form in 2022, Indian badminton player Malvika Bansod beat her idol Saina Nehwal on Thursday, January 13, in the Yonex-Sunrise India Open 2022 quarterfinals at the KD Jadhav Stadium, New Delhi.
"The feeling is surreal; it hasn't sunk in. Playing against someone I have looked up to was a dream come true. This was the biggest win of my career so far, as I had never played against the topmost player," Bansod spoke to The Logical Indian.
Winning or losing wasn't her primary thought; playing against Nehwal was an opportunity in itself. In the 34-minute game, the Nagpur shuttler beat Nehwal by 21-17, 21-9 in the women's singles second round encounter.
Bansod played the first game against player Samiya Farooqi and eased past her by 21-18 and 21-9 in the first game. In the pre-quarters, she faced Nehwal and beat her by 21-17 and 21-9.
She played with World no. 76 Aakarshi Kashyap for a spot in the semifinals on Friday. Earlier this month, Bansod beat Kashyap in the Badminton Association of India (BAI) All India Senior Rankings tournament held in Hyderabad.
It all started for her at the age of nine, when her mother put her into the sport to develop physical skills and maintain a healthy lifestyle. She was enrolled in the nearby badminton hall. Her family has been a sports enthusiast, given the history of her grandfather, a great tennis and badminton player of his time.
Every day, she played for 1 hour for three days a week. After a few months, the little virtuoso played in the under-10 category at the district level and reached the semifinals of the first game of her life.
By the time she reached her teenage years, Bansod had more accolades than many sportspeople of her age. The parents realised their child had a knack for it. As thrilled as they were for their daughter's success, being parents of a prodigy requires a commitment. There are expenses for coaching and travel, practice, the time spent on competitions, and so forth.
Her parents supported her throughout her journey, from managing the expenses to managing time for her.
Her recent wins were the prestigious Sudirman cup and Uber cup, the biennial international badminton championship contested by the mixed national teams of the member associations of the Badminton World Federation (BWF).
It was no less than a golden opportunity for Bansod. She got a chance to play with some of the world's prominent players, including Japan's Akane Yamaguchi, Pornpawee Chochuwong of Thailand, and Kirsty Gilmour of Scotland.
The trials for the selection was an accomplishment in itself for Bansod, as she won against all her opponents in the pool and knockout matches at the Pullela Gopichand Academy, Hyderabad.
In December 2021, she won the women's singles title at the All India senior ranking badminton tournament in Hyderabad.
Love For Nehwal
Ever since she stepped into the sport, Nehwal has been her icon. "She's the only one I have seen since I was a child. PV Sindhu came later, but initially, I only knew Saina Nehwal.
Bansod calls Nehwal a flagbearer of women's Badminton in India for almost a decade. "We all know that she is a dedicated and great sportsperson, and I was and will always be motivated by her will and strength," Bansod speaks ecstatically.
Reflecting on the win, Bansod expressed her gratitude towards her coach, Sanjay Mishra, Junior Chief National Coach. Mishra travelled with her in most of her tournaments and had a good rapport with Bansod.
Pandemic Affect On Training
Like all the citizens and other sportspersons, Bansod also had to endure the difficult phase of COVID-19 since 2020. The outbreak came as a challenge for the younger players, especially those who had just started their sports journey or were a step ahead, with the strick lockdown, stagnant rankings, tournaments, and practices.
Earlier, Bansod travelled from her hometown Nagpur to Raipur stadium for training, by road or train. But the lockdown was imposed to put a stop at it. Irrespective of the difficulties, she practised whatever little she could at her place.
When the lockdown was relaxed, coach Mishra resumed his training for a few athletes, including Bansod. He arranged the sessions and practices for the players.
The player's daily regime has been adversely affected, especially in the last few months. Bansod says she has adapted to the last minute changes in schedules of tournaments, training amid COVID. "It's not been even one month I am consistently sleeping on the same bed. Every day I travel to different camps, tournaments. It's been a difficult routine for me," she says.
Badminton & Physical Challenges
Bansod calls Badminton one of the most physically taxing sports, and one needs to be fit to sustain that intensity at the highest level. "If you're looking at competing at the top 10 level, then you have to have a lot of strength."
Performing Under Pressure?
It's not always easy to keep it together when it feels like winning is everything. But Nagpur genius's mantra is different, as she doesn't come under pressure easily. She believes the best skills aren't valuable if athletes can't perform when it matters most.
"I overcome pressure when I look back at my preparation. I calm myself, remind myself of all the hard work that has gone into practice, and reassure myself. You need to go out, play your best, play freely and play your natural game. You don't need to impose something on yourself; maintain basic strategy," the player tells us.
Gender & Sports
The player describes Badminton as a sport that requires explosive strength, speed, endurance and agility, all of which are more developed in men than women. "When you look at explosive strength, men can hit a jump smash more efficiently than us; same goes for their speed."
Bansod says that the challenges don't stop female players from leading. Women can divulge into more tactics, like buying more time for themselves, hitting strokes likewise, etc., making the most out of each training session is equally important.
Message For Generation
Realising how difficult the world generally has been for women, there is more agility and dedication required of us, Bansod says. "Not just Badminton, women who are planning to take up any profession of their choice, they need to always believe in themselves. No doubt we can win the world on our own."
The 20-year-old star is now looking foward to playing in the Super 300 Tournament that will be held in Lucknow next week. This will be Bansod's first time playing at the Super 300.