On Thursday, a lanky 12-year-old will have all eyes on her when she steps on the court to compete in the main draw at Bangalore’s National Senior Ranking badminton tournament. For, that 12-year-old is P Gayatri, the daughter of badminton chief national coach P Gopichand and the reigning under-13 national champion.
Though Gayatri has entered both the doubles and singles draws in the tournament, being played at the Karnataka Badminton Association courts, the youngster is keen on a career in singles. “She’s 12, but Gopi wanted to give exposure to youngsters at the academy in a seniors tournament. So she will start by competing in the main draw,” Gopichand’s mother Subbaravamma, who accompanied her granddaughter to the venue, said.
Gayatri, the elder of two siblings, has been training at Gopichand’s academy courts in Hyderabad for over three years now. “I’ll just try things here, my mother has told me to just enjoy myself,” Gayatri said, recalling advice from P V V Lakshmi, also a former international shuttler.
An aggressive player — as was visible in the doubles qualifying tie when she played alongside Vaishnavi — Gayatri keeps busy on the court, rushing the net and smashing often. Not all attacking strokes are timed to perfection, but there are early signs of a proactive mind in the way she pounces on the shuttle even in doubles, where she has won a title in the under-17 category.
“I like cross-court drops the most, though I hope to learn to play smashes and half-smashes like my father,” she said. Her favourite player currently, though, is top-ranked Chinese Chen Long. “I like his movement on the court,” she adds.
A Class VI student of Glendales school in Hyderabad, Gayatri received a stern look from her grandmother when she said she didn’t enjoy studies much and was keen on pursuing the sport, following in the footsteps of her father who famously won the All England two years before she was born. “I’ll do well at school with tuitions, but I like badminton more. I like English as a subject though,” she added.
Her daily training routine starts with waking up at 3.45 am, in time to get to the court at 4.15 am. “From 4.15 am-7 am, then 9 am-11am and then 3 pm-5 pm,” the youngster says, explaining her schedule. These are baby steps for the 12-year-old, who was seen taking evasive action against steep shuttles raining down on her from taller and older opponents on Wednesday, even as she stuck her tongue out sheepishly when she was unable to defend. But her career will be closely followed, given both her parents played at the highest level, and because her father is one of the sharpest brains in mentoring singles shuttlers.