After the women's doubles pair, Rutaparna Panda and Tanisha Crasto defeated India’s No.1 doubles pair Ashwini Ponappa and Sikki Reddy in the qualifiers for the Sudirman Cup and Thomas and Uber Cup, it was well anticipated that this pair would be the future. They became the first pair to qualify for the prestigious tournaments in the selection trials held in Hyderabad a few days back.
Sportskeeda caught up with the young and talented Rutaparna Panda to discuss her future aspirations and her life story.
Rutaparna, who trains at the Pullela Gopichand Academy in Hyderabad, has made sure to fulfill her father’s unfulfilled dreams.
“I used to watch my father play late till night in our colony and luckily he picked up my interest for badminton and encouraged me to play. Within a year, I got selected for the U13 State team to play nationals and there has been no looking back ever since,” said the 22-year old when asked about how her journey started in badminton.
After making her mark in the nationals, Rutaparna went on to represent India at the Asian Games in 2018. Although they lost in the tournament, she says that that was the biggest tournament of her life till date and the learning from the tournament was immense. She also became the first female badminton player from Odisha to represent India at the Asian Games in badminton.
Often called Panda by her teammates and coaches, Rutaparna is a bright example of how one can be good in both academics and sports. We all witnesse Suhas L Yathiraj making history in Tokyo by being the first IAS officer in India to win a medal (silver) at the Tokyo Paralympics 2021. Rutaparna is no different.
Panda felt confused when asked what career option she would have chosen if not a badminton player. She says:
“Umm if not a badminton player then.... Actually it’s a little confusing as I am really good at studies. Till 7th standard I used to score around 95% and in both my 10th and 12th grade I scored above 80%, that too just studying 1 month before the exams as I used to travel and play tournaments the whole year.
'I was good at dancing too and also used to play Table Tennis (she smiles). If not a badminton player then I would have studied properly or become a dancer".
Nicknamed Neha, Rutaparna currently studies at KIIT University which has produced many international athletes. She thanks the founder of KIIT Achyuta Samanta for the enormous amount of support he has been providing to her to excel at the highest stage.
Rutaparna, like any other youngster, feels inspired by the success of PV Sindhu at the Olympics.
“Sindhu didi’s success in two consecutive Olympics really inspires the whole country to do well and achieve. I also feel very much inspired to work hard and to make Odisha and India proud,” says the Cuttack girl.
Training during the pandemic has been difficult for Rutaparna
While the world is still going through a global pandemic, Rutaparna has got the support of her parents and her sister to make it count. Rutaparna’s sibling, Swetaparna who is also a Junior India badminton player, has helped her in training at home.
“Training has been quite difficult during COVID times. There was a lockdown and we had to continue with online sessions for months to maintain our fitness, and it was really important for me to stay mentally tough as we as players are very much used to the practice sessions and traveling and playing tournaments.
'So I was trying to be mentally strong. And also, I enjoyed some time with my family after so long along with doing some game practice with my sister and father,” says Panda.
Training under India's "Best Coach"
She has been training at the Gopichand Academy, which has become a powerhouse and breeding ground for Indian shuttlers, for a long time now. Speaking about her experience there, Rutaparna said:
"Ya it feels great to practice in the Gopichand Academy. There are different players from different states. So we do good practice sessions. And I really feel like improving day by day as I train under India’s best coach".
When asked about her targets for the upcoming international events, she mentions,
"The Sudirman Cup and the Thomas & Uber Cup are the biggest events in badminton. I am so excited and just want to give my 100 %. And playing against world’s best pairs in these tournaments will really boost my confidence and motivate me to work harder."
'Defeating Sikki and Ashwini in the selection trials has really boosted my confidence. From a long time back I wanted to play against them in a tournament. And this time I played and tried my best. This win will really help me to perform better in the Sudirman Cup and Thomas & Uber Cup', the Odia girl further added.
Rutaparna idolizes former World no. 1 Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia because of his hard work and discipline. She also believes that the recent success of the Para-badminton players in the Tokyo Paralympics will be a confidence booster for many badminton players across the country.
Rutaparna thanked Odisha's CM Naveen Patnaik for his efforts to make the state a sporting powerhouse and for all the help he has provided her in the past and continues to do so.
The young and emerging shuttler concluded by saying,
"There has been extremely good result in the Para Badminton in this year’s Paralympics. This will really help to boost the confidence of Indian badminton players. And I hope there will be more medals for India in the coming years."
The Sudirman Cup will be held from Sept 26 - Oct 3 in Finland while the Thomas and Uber Cup is scheduled in Denmark from October 9-17.