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Saturday, January 29, 2022

Malvika Bansod, 20, and Mithun Manjunath, 23, aim to upset established stars in Saina, Prannoy

Mithun Manjunath is from the Prakash Padukone academy; Malvika Bansod has never played Saina before.

Written by Shivani Naik |
Updated: January 13, 2022 11:29:58 am
Mithun Manjunath and Malvika Bansod (Twitter/BAI Media/Bwfbadminton.com)

Mithun Manjunath used to hit the mud ground a kilometre away from his Rajajinagar home in Bangalore for a 6 am daily run when the pandemic first hit.

That’s till the police, once, chased him off the field, where locals assembled to play cricket, since a lockdown curfew was in place.

“They couldn’t catch me, because I ran away, no? But next day I returned at 4 a.m because I had to continue my runs. I didn’t miss any session,” the 23-year-old recalls about what became an obsessional training routine spanning the duration of the ongoing pandemic.

All that training mileage will be scrunched into scrutiny of a Round 2 match at the India Open Super 500 against the big show – HS Prannoy on Thursday. In his opener, Mithun got past Frenchman Arnaud Merkle 21-16, 15-21, 21-10.

Considered Bangalore’s most elegant, young shuttler, with a smooth grip and an unwrinkled cadence to his movements, Mithun was highly rated as a junior, scouted out and coached by the city’s fabled trained-eye Sivakumar.

Later moving from his Malleswaram summer camp to the Padukone Academy, he found quality sparring as well as some amount of starchy rigour to his training. But not enough results to merit headlines.

The pandemic pushed him to shrug off his cloaking comfort zone. While the lockdowns threw many shuttlers off their projected targets, Mithun would see in the nothingness of 2020-21, a chance to plug gaps in his game. “I learnt patience and to not get desperate in a rally. I like to attack, and finish off in 10-11 strokes,” he recalls.
It’s here where the 4 am runs originated.

Not unlike most talented Indian juniors, Mithun’s fitness standards were abysmal. He was acquainted with the 400m scurries and high intensity interval Tabata runs occasionally, but not as a routine. “I decided I’d improve my fitness in the pandemic since it was very poor. I started running everyday, sometimes clocking an hour,” confesses the man, who admits his game was skilled, but sloppy.

“I planned my own fitness based on running and it made a huge difference. I could actually stay in the rallies well beyond 15-20 strokes. My legs used to give way earlier. I realised the main thing is – ‘Who stands on the court longest, wins’,” he says.

Coach Vimal Kumar had repeated this, and the new Korean coach Yong Sung Yoo reiterated: “He said I have very good skill, but still need to improve my fitness and power.”

Against Prannoy who shut out Pablo Abian 21-14, 21-7, Mithun starts a firm underdog. But there’s no lack of a disruptive defiance. “With Indians we know each other’s games though I lost to him at Welsh Open, I’ll focus point to point and make him run. I’ll play Bindaas! and give 100 percent. There should be no regrets,” he states.

Known for his forehand reverse drops which he uses cannily, Mithun will look to not give Prannoy the easy lifts, which can bring on the breathing fire of the smashing dragon. “I’m fully confident. Just see,” he avows, adding that there’s miles to run before his fitness is considered adequate, but it’s enough to fancy his chances.

Four All-India ranking titles didn’t interest sponsors as his family continues to struggle. But the Momota fan, with a streak of Kidambi Srikanth fondness, believes the two year investment in fitness, can give him a confidence top-up.

Malvika vs Saina

Young Malvika Bansod, 20, will need to prey on Saina Nehwal’s dodgy fitness, because the tough as nails senior, even at an admitted 60-70 percent, can stand in one spot, roll her wrist over the shuttle, and make Bansod look like a novice, if she doesn’t drive the knife in.

Nehwal’s medical report card is cluttered: there’s a cartilage tear, a patella tantruming and a meniscus in rebellion. She feels her groin has acted up and in pain and her knee is in trauma. There’s also a bone-medical situation, too tongue-twisting to wrap her head over. Sum total of pain that’s only just subsided.

Bansod, who was 12 when she started following Saina as badminton’s flagbearer, though her mother’s intent was only to inculcate a healthy lifestyle in her at Nagpur, knew the icon as someone who never gives up. The vulnerability though, is her opportunity.

Bansod played Sudirman – Uber Cup for India a few months back, and came up against Akane Yamaguchi and Pornpawee Chochuwong, staying in a handful of rallies with the former, and reading deception and strategies of the latter. “Moreover, I picked crucial warm-up limber down techniques. And the long rallies,” she recalls. She also watched Saina’s discipline even at age 30.

“She picks every shuttle, never gives up,” Bansod states. It’s a rally rhythm she’d like to incite anarchy in, further distressing the lunges.

Bansod never played Nehwal before. But Malvika Bansod would like to become the first Indian – beyond PV Sindhu – to inflict a loss. She’s looked upto Saina all these years, but there’s no dearth of competitiveness in her. “I’ve been like that always,” she says pithily.

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