India’s Sankar Muthusamy in junior badminton worlds final
The 18-year-old from a Chennai academy tamed his aggressive Thai opponent to reach the final of the tournament in Santander, Spain
To say that Sankar Muthusamy is obsessed with badminton would be an understatement. Since taking up the sport at six, the Chennai boy hasn’t gone on a vacation in the last 12 years.
“I don’t remember any family vacation after he started playing badminton. Even the couple of times we’ve visited our native place in Thoothukudi, we’ve literally had to drag him. His sole thing in life is badminton,” Sankar’s elder sister Priyanka Subramanian said from Chennai.
Even when he was out of action in 2019 due to a knee injury, Sankar fretted over not being able to play. His family kept insisting that he take a break. “He would just keep watching badminton videos all the time. He doesn’t like time off badminton,” his sister said.
It was this drive that took the 18-year-old to the verge of the men’s singles title in the BWF World Junior Championships in Santander, Spain. Sankar scored a dominant 21-13, 21-15 win over Thailand’s Panitchaphon Teeraratsakul to march into the summit clash, the fourth Indian—the second male player—to do so.
Aparna Popat was the first, reaching the final of the World Junior Championships in 1996 before finishing with silver. It took 10 years before another Indian reached the final, Saina Nehwal also ending up with silver. Saina ended the wait in 2008 when she became the first, and till date the only, Indian to win gold. Siril Verma was the first male player to reach the final, seven years ago, finishing runner-up.
Aggression vs calmness
Though his opponent was aggressive from the start, the junior world No 4 countered with calmness and racquet subtleties, playing a percentage game to be in control throughout the 40-minute encounter at the Palacio de Deportes de Santander.
Teeraratsakul, a member of Thailand’s Thomas Cup team in May, started strongly, attacking and smashing almost all the shots of Sankar. The Indian, a former junior world No 1, stayed calm and kept the shuttle in play, and the frustrated Thai was frustrated and lapsed into errors. With both shuttlers being left-handers, there was no advantage they would have had playing against a right-hander.
Sankar did not try anything out of the box, just played smart and exuded confidence, making sure he not just remained in control but also never lost the lead in the first game. Sankar’s game and his own inability to find winners despite his attacking game irritated Teeraratsakul, who continued to make errors, handing easy points.
Sankar’s subtle stroke production and deception stood out as he made even difficult shots look easy. He started to pull away, opening up a big gap and pocketing the opening game on his first game point.
In the second game, neither player conceded more than a point’s gap early on. Both pushed each other to the limit which resulted in some fantastic long rallies. The Thai, who showed lot of energy and spark in the first game, began running out of steam in the second. His attacks and aggression no longer bothered his Indian opponent.
Sankar started asserting himself towards the end, his class and quality propelling him to victory.
“So far this is his biggest achievement. He is really happy. He was playing without pressure today. Yesterday was the pressure match as it would ensure a medal, but not today,” said Priyanka, who is also a shuttler. “We expected him to win a medal. We didn’t really focus on the junior circuit. We didn’t go to many junior tournaments. We focused on playing senior events. This is his last year in juniors so we thought why not try in the World Junior Championships.”
Whether the trial is fully successful will be known on Sunday when Sankar faces Kuo Kuan Lin of Chinese Taipei in the final.