Having to play eight matches in one day four semi finals and the same number of finals fatigue would have been as much of an opponent of 12-year-old Kartikey Gulshan Kumar as his actual competitors. Ultimately however he hardly broke a sweat as he waltzed away to the singles and doubles titles in both the U-13 and U-15 categories of the the Delhi State Sub junior badminton championships.
Such was his dominance over the course of the competition that he wasnt even pushed into a deciding game in any of his matches. In the singles event he appeared to be several levels above his rivals,setting up points when he needed to and finishing off points quickly at will. While his net game was his strong point,he was frequently overpowering from the mid court as well.
In fact,the only problem he faced all day was finding a bag large enough to carry his four trophies home.
As he eventually stuffed the trophies in an already stuffed kit bag,Kartikey insisted that he was prepared. I was always expecting to win all four titles, he says. Watching proudly from the sidelines was his father Gulshan who admitted he is still coming to grips with his sons success in badminton.
There isnt anyone else from my family who plays sports. Even Kartikeys elder brother and sister focussed more on their academics. We are originally from Sonepat and shifted to Delhi for better education prospects, he says. The move to Delhi,proved fortuitous for then 8-year-old Kartikey. While he had begun to learn the sport at a neighbourhood academy in Sonepat,he was able to get better training under coach Ashwini and Arun Khurana at the Ludlow Castle in Delhi.
He turned out to be a natural and in a years time won his first U-10 state title. Eager to take part in more competitive tournaments,Kartikey began competing in Hyderabad. It was in one such tournament that he caught the eye of legendary coach SM Arif who had coached Pullela Gopichand and Saina Nehwal among others. Although Arif accepted Kartikeys parents request to coach their son,over a period of a few months he realised that the boy would not get the specialised attention and training he needed at a young age. He subsequently recommended Kartikeys name to the Prakash Padukone Academy in Bangalore.
While Kartikeys father Gulshan was happy that his sons badminton was improving,the unfamiliarity with an athletes lifestyle,a sporting career and future prospects was their concern. Training full time at an academy is a big step for a 12-year-old. I asked Prakash Padukone whether Kartikey was getting into too much too soon. He assured me that Kartikey is a long term prospect, says Gulshan.
Initially a member of the summer camp,Kartikey is now a hostel resident at the Bangalore academy for the past eight months,returning to Delhi every few months to give his exams. Kartikey acknowledges his own game has progressed tremendously since he first began training there. I have grown stronger and become my shot-making has become more accurate, he says.
The wins have racked up as well. He won a ranking tournament in Vijaywada earlier this year and only last month defeated players from Singapore and South Korea en route a bronze medal in the U-13 category at the Surabaya Open in Indonesia. Kartikey is now aiming the sub-junior nationals later in the year. Last year when I took part,I lost in the quarter finals. This time I want to return with a medal, he says.
Results: BS U13 Final: Kartikey Gulshan Kumar (2),def. Akash Yadav (1) 21-11 21-9; GS U13 Final: Khushbu Kumar (1),def. Kavya Gandhi; BD U13 Final : Anmol Khosla and Kartikey Gulshan Kumar (1),def. Akash Yadav and Vikas Yadav (2) 21-5 21-12; GD U13 Final: Riya Sachan and Vibhuti Sharma def. Kavya Gandhi and Arunima Singh; BS U15 Final: Kartikey Gulshan Kumar def. Shubham Gusain 21-9 21-10; GS U15 Final: Kanika Kanwal (2) def. Bhavya Rishi (3) 21-11 21-9; BD U15 Final: Aranjay Bisht and Kartikey Gulshan Kumar (1) def. Anant Bhardwaj and Narendra Singh Koranga 21-15 21-9; GD U15 Final: Anamika Kashyap and Ishita Solanki (2) def. Kanika Kanwal and Khushbu Kumar 13-21 21-17 21-18.