After making a strong impact on power sports like wrestling and boxing, Haryana is slowly gaining ground in racquet sports, especially badminton and lawn tennis.
Badminton has so far remained popular in southern states like Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala. But in the past five years things are changing for Haryana. Badminton players like Deepak Khatri, Ketan Chahal, Akshit Mahajan and Neeraj Vashisth have been propping up Haryana in the national badminton map.
Recently, Ira Sharma, who hails from Haryana’s rural district, Charkhi Dadri, became a badminton sensation by winning the under-19 national championship in Uddupi, Karnataka, by beating big South Indian stars. The success story of Haryana girls did not stop at Ira Sharma, names like Unnati Hooda, Palak Arora, Muskan Sangwan, Devika Sihag, Jiya Rawat and Ridhi Kaur made their impact despite coming from humble backgrounds.
Twelve-year-old Unnati grabbed national headlines when she won the national championship in girl’s single in under-13 category held at Bhagalpur of Bihar in November 2019.
Daughter of a shopkeeper, Palak Arora won bronze medal in 2018 in girl’s double under-13 in national championship held at Kaddapa of Andhra Pradesh in 2018.
Upkar Hooda, father of national champion Unnati, attributed the success of new crop of upcoming players to ‘diet, discipline and passion’. “These are the reasons why Haryanvi players excelled in wrestling, boxing and now badminton,” added Upkar.
He said local talents have the innate ability to fight against the best and win against all the odds. “Most big names today are sons and daughters of farmers, Army men and those who fight for their livelihood on a day-to-day basis,” he said.
Parvesh Kumar, government coach at Rohtak’s Chottu Ram Badminton Academy said his students can beat rest of top players of India because of their gifted physical strength and ability to perform under pressure. “Earlier, boxing and wrestling academies used to be top choice of parents of Haryana but after emergence of names like Saina Nehwal, P V Sindhu, Ira Sharma and Srikant, the game is being picked up by sports lovers in Haryana also,” he added.
In lawn tennis, the rise of players like Ajay Malik, the under-14 national champion who came to limelight by practicing in village green fields, has given hope to many.
Ajay Singhania, national secretary of BAI, said the spotlight is now on Haryana players in racket sports because they fight hard on court and their physical strength is an advantage for them.