Guwahati: At the Kanaklata Indoor Stadium of the RG Barua Sports Complex in Guwahati, where the Assam Badminton Association (ABA) is located, Ashmita Chaliha is seen moving swiftly across the court. She chats with her coach and then moves on to her fellow players. The ABA and its courts are constantly abuzz — this is where Ashmita learnt the basics of badminton from when she was just seven years old.
“I wasn’t interested much when I’d begun, but slowly as I started playing tournaments, my interest grew,” said 18-year-old Chaliha, just a few days before leaving for the 18th edition of the Asian Games beginning August 18 in the Indonesian cities of Jakarta and Palembang.
On June 27, the Assamese shuttler, who hails from Guwahati, won her first senior ranking badminton tournament in Hyderabad, which helped her get a spot in the Indian contingent.
She hopes she would get to play in the team event. “I am very happy to be accompanying Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu. I am hoping I’ll get to play in the team event since I won my first senior ranking badminton tournament in Hyderabad in June,” she said. However, it’s unlikely for her to get a chance in the single event as they will only send two entries.
She admits that her father has been a great support system. “He travels with me all the time except when I’m going outside the country to play. My sister is very supportive too — she used to play as well, she has played at the national level. But she sustained an ankle injury and had to leave,” she said.
For Ashmita, her biggest inspiration, however, is Malaysian player Lee Chong Wei. “I follow his game because it’s different. His defence is very strong. Among girls, I like the Taiwanese player Tai Tzu Ying, who’s currently world number 1.”
Trained under Indonesian coach Edwin Iriawan and India’s Suranjan Bhobora, the lean shuttler has made a steady growth since last year, when she had lost in the quarter-finals of the junior national championship, held in Guwahati itself. In 2018, after switching to the senior category, she played four tournaments before her big victory in Hyderabad. “I need more mental strength. If I am down in the game by two-three points, sometimes I lack that courage to fight back, but my coaches have been very supportive. In the finals in Hyderabad, I won the first game, but lost the second. I was trailing behind in the third game, but I don’t know what happened, my speed increased,” she said, laughing.
In the past few years, the ABA has also supported her. “It’s an expensive sport and we couldn’t have done it without the financial support from the association. It has exempted her from paying any fees because she has been doing well,” said Dhruba Jyoti Chaliha, Ashmita’s father.
According to Iriawan, she is special because she is a lefty. He said, “But talent and practice go hand in hand. Her talent needs to be honed further. After the Hyderabad tournament got over, it was declared that she would be playing in the Asian Games, and we have been trying our best to provide her with good training. I have told her to be more serious and dedicated towards the sport. Since she will be competing globally now, it’s all the more important.”
For her part though, she feels it’s difficult for the right-handed players to play against lefties. “There aren’t many lefties so when they’re pitted against one, they tend to get confused. Our forehand is supposed to be effective,” she said.
Recently enrolled in the BA first-year correspondence programme at the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), Ashmita has always played badminton and no other sports. “She takes the sport enthusiastically and enjoys it. I believe that’s why she’s done well. But there is long way to go,” said her father.