By Next Year I Want to be Best Junior Player in the World: Unnati Hooda

She has a charming smile and a happy laugh. As she talks to you, she looks you straight in the eyes. She understands the question and thinks a little before answering. And she has a mature head over her strong shoulders. Unnati Hooda, just 14 years old, born 9/20/2007, is a precocious teenager who is making waves in the badminton circuit and will very soon be the favorite of sports fans across the country. Unnati at her tender age shook the hierarchy of the Indian badminton setup by leading the fight to the big names in women’s singles and has entered the big league in amazing fashion. It has huge potential and will no doubt be a world-class shuttle soon.

In the four international tournaments recently held in the country, she won gold in the BWF Super100 event in Odisha and silver in the Infosys Indian Challenge. Reached the main rounds in women’s doubles at the India Open and made it to the second round of the Syed Modi Memorial BWF Super300 event.

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She was ranked 470 before the start of the Unnati show and had jumped to 217 in the world rankings within two months. Her best performance after the Odisha tournament came last week at the BAI Trials in Delhi, where she defeated many top players like Aditi Bhat, Poorva Barve and Anura Prabhudesai and the dangerous Malvika Bansod and Akurshi Kashyap, India’s No.1 to PV Sindhu.

Unnati’s scintillating performance in women’s singles over the past two months has led to her selection for the prestigious Uber Cup and Asian Games squads. Unnati will be the youngest person to ever take part in these two championships. At the Odisha tournament, she had defeated Tasneem Mir, current world No. 1, Malvika Bansod, world No. 67, and Smit Toshniwal, No. 218, becoming the youngest player in the world to win a BWF Super100 event won.

The bubbly and ebullient Unnati spoke to News18.com about her career so far, her goals, her hobbies and her approach to the game. Her trainer Pravesh Kumar and father Upkar Hooda were also present to answer a few questions.

Excerpts:

You have had a great time in the selection process over the past week and in the past two months at various international events in India. Do you enjoy defeating high ranking seniors? Aren’t you afraid to play them?

I just love playing against any opponent. If they are above me, all the better. I’m not afraid of any player. I tell myself I have nothing to lose. They believe they shouldn’t lose to a younger opponent. For me it doesn’t matter. I just play my game and try to have fun. I’m not nervous on the pitch. I like to play matches to see how good I am. I study all the time.

Now you have been selected to play for the senior Indian team and become the youngest ever player from India. Your idol PV Sindu will accompany you to the Uber Cup and Asian games. What will you learn with Kidambi Shrikanth, Lakshya Sen and Sindhu?

It will be great to meet with such legends. I might not have much time on the pitch but it will be great to watch them train. Sindhu is my idol. Watching her practice hitting will be a blessing. She smashes so hard. I can learn some new techniques from her. I heard she’s a very friendly person. Lets see what happens.

To coach Pravesh, what are the qualities that you feel set you apart? And how much time does she devote to her training?

I work for the state sports department. I’m the coach at Badminton Training Center in Rohtak, where about 45 kids are learning the game. Unnati came to me when she was 7 years old. She’s a glutton for hard work. We train in the morning from 5.30 a.m. to 7.30 a.m. and in the evening from 4.00 p.m. to 7.30 p.m. If she has to go to a tournament, we also train in the afternoon from 12:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. Her praiseworthy qualities are her discipline, dedication and punctuality. In all the seven years she was with me, I can’t remember if she was ever late. She has great discipline in everything she does. She is a coach’s delight. And another thing is, if I teach her a new punch or move, she won’t leave the seat until she’s mastered it. And wonderfully match temperament.

To Father Upkar Hooda – Your family values ​​education. You and your wife both have PhDs, while you left your job as an assistant professor, your wife is a college principal. We are told that your parents were also professors and your family also runs a school. So how come you allowed her to exercise? And what role can parents play in their children’s physical education?

Well, our family is very keen on education, that’s true, and Unnati is also very good at learning. Both my wife and I have PhDs. My parents are also retired, professors. I was an assistant professor when I quit my job to pursue Unnati’s career and travel with her. She was never one to compromise with her studies, but even at the age of nine she was showing so much potential [in Badminton] that we decided to allow her to continue. She won the U11 title when she was just nine years old and she has never looked back since. She won the U13 state championships and placed 1st in the U15; So it seems to have huge potential. We will support you all the way.

As for parental involvement, I believe it should be about supporting your child as much as possible. My opinion is that parents, coaches and the child form a team. We all have our roles, we’re like a tripod – one leg goes weak and you crumble. We should also be aware that you can’t always win and you have to accept loss with dignity and learn from it. Parents should trust the coach and work with him. And the child must be willing to work hard. It should be so. We don’t put any pressure on Unnati and leave her alone.

Unnati, what are your short and long term goals?

I’m glad I was selected for the Uber Cup and the Asian Games. Next year I want to be the best junior player in the world and in 2024 I want to play in the Olympics and bring laurels to India.

What are your hobbies and who is your favorite movie star?

Well, I like reading books. When I have time, I enjoy cycling and swimming. Painting also relaxes me. I’ve seen “Chak de India” many times and the film motivates me a lot. I don’t actually remember seeing any recent movies lately. I don’t have much time at all to watch movies. I don’t have favorite movie stars, but I do have favorites in badminton. I want to be like Sindhu. I want to be a champion like her.

What is your favorite food?

I like pav bhaji and kaju katli in sweets

Final question for coach Pravesh – What areas do you think need work on in terms of their game?

For her, this is just the beginning and she still has a long way to go. To be a truly comprehensive player, she needs to sharpen her shots. She is only 14 and has achieved a lot. Her improvement had to be general. To play against older players she needs to develop more speed, more control and her ability to play fast long rallies. Sometimes she refuses to attack. She needs to change that mindset. Much more needs to be done. As I said before, this is just the beginning and she has a long way to go.

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