Trailing by a game in the U-19 pre-quarterfinal, Unnati Hooda (11) and Palak Arora (12) looked towards the stands and showed the shuttle to the former’s eight-year-old brother Jaivardhan Hooda.
It’s a ritual, something the Haryana pair do to show young Jaivardhan, a district-level doubles U-11 champion, that they will continue to fight. The two made it 10-10 at one point but eventually lost the game and match 12-21, 14-21 against the seventh-seeds Khushi Gupta and Drithi Yatheesh in the Yonex Sunrise 28th Smt. Krishna Khaitan Memorial All India Junior Ranking Prize Money Badminton Tournament, being played at Tau Devi Lal Stadium. Despite the loss, Hooda – currently ranked second in the girls U-13 singles and doubles national ranking along with Arora – was cheered by the spectators and father Dr Upkar Hooda.
“It was our second U-19 tournament this year and we will take lot of positives from this performance. We had lost in the qualification round in the All India U-19 Ranking Tournament in Kerala earlier this year but to reach the pre-quarters here will add to our confidence. We know we are not as tall as others competing in this category, but we relied on our basics and we see competing in U-19 tournaments as a learning experience for both of us,” shares Palak.
With their fathers being friends, both Hooda and Arora started playing at Rohtak’s Chhotu Ram Stadium.
A silver medal in doubles in the Haryana Junior Championships last year was followed by a bronze in the U-13 Junior Nationals Badminton Championship, where Hooda also claimed the bronze medal in the singles event. This year has seen Hooda claim two singles and a doubles title with Divitha Pottasiri in the All India U-13 and U-15 national Ranking Tournaments. Her first U-15 medal came last month when she paired up with Mayank Rana to claim the title in Guwahati.
“Palak started playing one year before me and when we are off-court, she reminds me that she is the senior partner. Once we play, both of us forget about that and our focus is on to complement each other’s game. The bronze medal in last year’s junior nationals made us believe that we can win at national level as a pair,” says Hooda, who recalls the meeting with Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty earlier this month.
“I have been playing with Divitha also and winning the title at Hyderabad in July also gave us chance to meet Satwiksairaj and Chirag sir, who were present during the prize distribution ceremony. We asked them for some tips and when they won the Super 500 title, we followed the match on television,” shares Hooda.
Coach Parvesh Kumar believes that the pair will add strength in the coming years and competing at U-17 and U-19 level will also add to their confidence.
“Both started playing together at a young age and they complement each other well. They like playing doubles too, which also means that they have to do 1-2 hours of extra practice daily and they are always eager to spend more time on the court. They need to add more strength to their wrists apart from increasing their stamina in the coming years and we are working on that,” shares Kumar.
As for the pair, the evening will be spent watching cartoons. “Playing all these age groups tournaments, some of which are higher than our regular age categories means we get less time to relax or watch TV,” says Hooda. “At least today, we will watch Motu Patlu and Shinchan.”