Sameer Verma, 22, started the final badly but managed to stretch the local lad NG Ka Long Angus to three games before eventually losing 14-21 21-10 11-21. (Source: Express Archives)
Sameer Verma’s had an outstanding week — most of what happened was unexpected. Starting from being only the third Indian to reach a Super Series final — after K Srikanth and Ajay Jayaram. The 22-year-old struggled to gather enough shuttles to hit as a kid training in a small city near Indore and he spent large amounts of time nursing injuries, struggles that faded in memory when he finished runners up at Hong Kong, going down 14-21, 21-10, 11-21 to NG Ka Long Angus.
The local challenger had maxed the home advantage to eke out a win, and in true Sameer-fashion the Indian refuses to regret not making the finals count. “I’ve always been positive through my injuries. I never expected to be in finals at the start of the tournament, so right now I’m happy I played this,” he said.
Thoughts of being the next-big-thing from India don’t cross his mind. “Yesterday’s match against Jan O Jorgensen (an upset win against World No 3) was my biggest struggle in life,” he adds, preferring to keep badminton simple and his memory of past travails short-term.
Brother Sourabh recalls receiving some clever tips from younger sibling Sameer when the latter was injured — the back, ankle and recently shoulder niggling him through the last few years. “I always wondered if injuries were affecting him deeply. But he would simply get down to rehab and keep talking about different strokes in badminton that I should use. I’ve never seen him demotivated. He always looks ready for a comeback,” he says. The three-setter loss — a ‘missed opportunity’ — won’t scar Sameer to the core. “He just fights. He’ll shop for clothes, listen to Arijit songs and return to training,” the brother stresses.
Something might just change though. It’s been colossally difficult for India’s men’s singles players to find the big breaks in terms of titles — and only Srikanth has two Super Series titles on the circuit even as Ajay and P Kashyap plod on ceaselessly.
There’s no lack of effort, but a variety of reasons have combined to put men’s singles firmly in the shade of women’s stars Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu. Amidst that, Sameer Verma suddenly stepped it up, though he couldn’t take this surge to its logical culmination.
“Before the final, I was a bit nervous. I felt a bit of pressure today, but now now I’m confident of making the top ten. I felt tension because it’s my first final. I talked to (brother) Sourabh yesterday (Saturday),” Sameer told Badminton World Federation.
Sameer started the final badly, though the drift was playing a huge part in the proceedings. Angus seemed almost clueless in the second set after claiming the first, and the Indian ranked 43 might’ve fancied his chances till late into the last changeover of the match.
Sameer operates at a very high pace. The trouble was not all matches are tailored to be slam-bang-smash-fests. Some simply demand retrieving from deep forehand corner and rushing back to the backhand forecourt. Over and over again.
Angus wasn’t varying the jump-and smash hard technique too much either, but there’s a reason he’s Top 15. The Hong Kong player dug in his heels for a long rally in the decider and gained confidence to dictate the pace. Coach Siadutt seemed to be telling Sameer to break the monotony of flat-flat-push-push, mixing them with drops, but Sameer failed to change his pace, and Angus ready for the flats-pushes and armed with tight spinning net shots of his own, took off after Sameer visibly tired at 11-break in the third. The tap-errors towards the end pointed to a tired head as well.
Sameer Verma is immensely talented, but the pitfalls ahead are obvious. “Given his very physical game, he’ll have to train that much to play this much,” former international Aparna Popat says, stressing it’s too early to anoint him the next sensation.
Sameer Verma reckons he’s ready for the top level after winning the nationals earlier this year, but he’ll have to grow as a player. Matches at the top level are won with longer rallies, and seldom do scratchy players last the distance week in week out. “At the highest level, they don’t hurry to finish a rally, champions pick the correct one to kill,” former player Aravind Bhat, says.
The constant hustle in a game that’s not probing enough can cost Sameer finals. “He’ll have to keep playing top-level matches. He’ll learn, he’s very talented and a good guy. But patience in rallies will take him to the next level,” he adds.
On Sunday, Sameer didn’t look prepared for playing that extra shot that could’ve cracked Angus.
Sameer’s biggest challenge though will be taking care of his body – to keep that foot and hand speed intact. One of the shorter ones on the circuit, he’ll have to run a lot and points will come the hard way, exerting a lot of pressure on his frame.
However this one final can motivate him to think of the highest level – nothing less. It’ll be the difference between cracking Top 30 and being Top 10.