'Want to go past everyone and become world No. 1' - Hindustan Times
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'Want to go past everyone and become world No. 1'

By, New Delhi
Apr 13, 2023 12:20 AM IST

Young badminton star Priyanshu Rajawat has big plans and he isn't about to stop anytime soon.

After the memorable 2022 season for Indian badminton, with the likes of PV Sindhu, Lakshya Sen and more leading the charge, not many would’ve expected young Priyanshu Rajawat to be the first singles title winner from the country this year on the BWF World Tour.

Young badminton star Priyanshu Rajawat has big plans and he isn't about to stop anytime soon(Instagram @Priyanshu Rajawat ) PREMIUM
Young badminton star Priyanshu Rajawat has big plans and he isn't about to stop anytime soon(Instagram @Priyanshu Rajawat )

While there could be several reasons why the more established names are yet to clinch a title in 2023, Rajawat deserves credit for an inspired performance at the Orleans Master Super 300 recently.

The 21-year-old didn’t drop a single game en route to the final, defeating world No. 12 Kenta Nishimoto in the second round, and showed tremendous grit to close out the title clash against Magnus Johannesen. He has been rated highly in domestic circles for a while now, and his latest exploits have helped him jump 20 spots to a career-best 38th position in the rankings.

“The first couple of wins gave me confidence and then I had the belief that I could go all the way,” said Rajawat. “I had to dig deep in the end and I’m glad I could pull through.”

Rajawat had finished as runner-up at the Odisha Open Super 100 last year and on the BWF International Challenge, he has won titles in Bahrain (2019), Ukraine (2021), India International Challenge (2021) and India Chattisgarh International Challenge (2022).

However, for Rajawat, the tournament that left the biggest impact on him was the Thomas Cup last year. He was the youngest member of the Indian squad that created history by winning the prestigious title for the first time. Interacting with and being around seniors like Srikanth Kidambi and HS Prannoy had a profound effect on his outlook towards the game.

“I used to play with more restraint as I was growing up, but the Thomas Cup was a turning point for me. I saw up close the intensity and tempo with which senior players operate. It gave me a major boost and I realised I needed to change my playing style, bring in more aggression,” said Rajawat.

“At the Thomas Cup, I got to learn so much from the seniors in the team. We would do everything together as a group, have every meal with each other. It was a wonderful experience. During the matches, even those of us who weren’t playing would show support wholeheartedly. We were determined to win no matter what. Seniors like Srikanth sir would guide us youngsters a lot during practice. The 10 of us were like real brothers throughout the tournament. I felt so fortunate to be a part of that squad.”

Rajawat picked up badminton at an incredibly young age. He was just six years old when he would watch his older brother train and get inspired to give the sport a shot.

“As soon as I got introduced to the sport, I was sure I wanted to play it forever. I had no doubt that this was the path for me. Lin Dan was my idol, I wanted to play just like him,” said Rajawat.

After training in his hometown Dhar, Madhya Pradesh, under the guidance of Sudhir Verma – father of India players Sourabh and Sameer Verma – for two years, he got selected in the trials for the Pullela Gopichand academy in Gwalior when he was eight. He played there for two years before Gopichand took him to his centre in Hyderabad in 2011. He’s been training there ever since.

“If it wasn’t for Gopi sir, I wouldn’t have progressed in this manner. He always keeps an eye out for me and pays great attention to my training. Anil (Kumar) sir has also played a huge role and has been guiding me for years,” he said.

One of the things that stood out during Rajawat’s impressive run in Orleans was his attacking game. His height and wingspan allow him to create sharp angles and he complemented that with the right amount of patience. According to him, it’s the increase in his fitness level that has allowed him to play in a more dynamic way.

“I started focussing on my fitness a lot more after the Thomas Cup. Strength training became a big part of my routine. I knew I had to develop a more attacking game and for that, I needed to get stronger. This has helped me avoid injuries too, which is critical. Looking at my game style, I need to gain even more strength in my legs and shoulders,” he said.

Rajawat is well aware that this is only the beginning, but his dreams remain big. The competition in men’s singles is stiff in India at the moment, with the likes of Prannoy, Lakshya and Srikanth remaining the frontrunners, and the youngster knows he needs to keep improving.

“I know I can’t waste any day and need to keep giving my 100% in every session. If you want to achieve great things, there is no choice but to go all out,” said Rajawat.

He added: “The senior Indian players give it their all each time they step on the court. So there is a constant motivation to keep improving. I want to go a little ahead of them no matter what it takes, I want to go past everyone and become the world No. 1. If I can enter the World Championships this year, I will try my best to win a medal. The Olympic qualification will also begin and I’ll try to make it. I want to be the first Indian to win a men’s singles gold medal at the Olympics.”

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