Junior India No. 1 Anmol Kharb inspired by the greats, but in no rush of answering the who after Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu question

Indian Under-19 No. 1 player Anmol Kharb.
Indian Under-19 No. 1 player Anmol Kharb.

Short hair, beaming smile and a trophy too big for her petite frame, Anmol Kharb looked like the spitting image of Saina Nehwal at the Yonex Sunrise Smt Krishna Khaitan Memorial All India Junior Ranking Prize Money tournament in Panchkula.

In the last couple of weeks, the talented youngster has shown just why she is the Indian No. 1 in both the Under-17 and Under-19 categories.

Having lifted the trophy in Panchkula after ousting No. 3 Tanvi Sharma in the finals, she hopped on the latest transit she could find to make her way to Udaipur for the next tourney. The result? Another winner’s trophy to add to the cabinet.

“It felt fantastic to win back-to-back titles in very different conditions,” Kharb said shortly after her win in Udaipur.

The results have come in thick and fast of late for the Faridabad-born, who first ascended to the top of the junior rankings earlier in the year.

Her badminton journey, however, did not begin until she was nine years old. Drawn to roller skates and not shuttles and rackets, Kharb first played badminton during a family outing at a park.

“My father and brother used to play badminton all the time and one day, they just handed me the racket and I just started to connect well,” Kharb said, looking back at her beginnings.

The story is reminiscent of Ashwini Ponnappa, who picked up the sport after a similar incident. The Bangalore-born player has herself delivered many firsts for Indian badminton along with her long-time partner Jwala Gutta. Kharb, for one, takes conscious note of the rich legacy of Indian badminton.

“I didn’t watch badminton before, but obviously my interest grew as I began participating in competition. Watching PV Sindhu, Kidambi Srikanth and the likes,” she said, recalling the incident where photographers in Panchkula directed her to inch closer to Nehwal’s photo after noticing their similarities.

All said and done though, Kharb is in no rush to step into the shoes of these legends who have Olympics and World medals to their name. She is more the one day, or rather one point at a time sort of person.

It’s one day at a time for Anmol Kharb

The youngster said that the similarities in physical presence with Saina Nehwal notwithstanding, her game is closer to the more aggressive players like Sindhu and Gutta even.

“I have always been a more aggressive player and like to end the rallies quickly,” she said.

How she carries herself on court and deals with the pressure is something she is still getting her head around. And that's fair given her young age. In fact, it was earlier this July that she travelled to her first international tournament — the Junior Asian Championships in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

Travelling with a team of fellow players and experienced Badminton Association of India coaches has taught her quite a few things, Kharb says, adding:

“The more I play and travel, the better I feel I understand the game. I have even gotten the chance to watch Sindhu and Kidambi practice on court and there’s nothing like it,” she added.

A family’s dream

For now, Kharb does not travel with a big entourage. Her mother chauffeurs her to each practice session while her father takes her from tournament to tournament. He, however, has been an asset like no other in her own words.

“Every time I struggle on court, I look at him and he’s always there to calm me down,” she said, while also acknowledging the support from her school teachers at DPS Faridabad and her sponsors.

And the arrangement works. After all, Kharb holds a 10,000-plus point lead over the No. 2 Unnati Hooda in the U-19 national rankings.

Kharb by her own admission is ready for the next challenge. She is training hard in getting ready to test her mettle against some of the country's best at the Senior National Badminton Championships scheduled to be held in December.

The youngster recalls her first title win at an Under-13 event. The moment when she lifted that trophy was her realising that she wanted to make it big in badminton. Hearing her mother squeal in joy with over the phone after each tournament win tells her that she is on the right path.

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Edited by Siddharth Dhananjay