It might seem odd that Indian badminton, with so many big names playing currently, has not had a moment to celebrate in 2023 before Sunday. Priyanshu Rajawat , an emerging star, corrected that anomaly at the Orleans Masters in France with a win over Magnus Johannesen of Denmark in the decider.
It was his maiden World Tour title in his first appearance in the final.
Priyanshu, who has long been touted as a promising talent in the national circuit and was part of India’s Thomas Cup-winning squad last year, had not won anything bigger than an international series-level title before, with the last coming in September 2022 at the India Chattisgarh International Challenge.
But by winning all his matches in straight games en route to the Orleans Masters final, including a rout of top seed Kenta Nishimoto in the pre-quarterfinal, he has rightfully announced his arrival on the international stage.
Priyanshu, ranked 58th in the world, demonstrated flawless attack in all his five matches. With his improved stamina and strength, he now engages his opponents in longer rallies before going for the kill. In his trademark style, he combined his foot speed with his quick hands to beat Nishimoto. In the semifinal, he outplayed a higher-ranked Nhat Nguyen, world no. 35, of Ireland in straight games. He needed just 44 minutes to seal his place in the summit clash.
The high point of the match was Priyanshu’s willingness to engage in rallies and immaculate defence. He defended hard smashes before positioning himself for a crosscourt kill to get the batter of a stunned Nguyen.
WATCH: Who is Priyanshu Rajawat, the Orleans Masters champion?
A nimble-footed Priyanshu, putting up yet another high-quality show in the final, opened the match with a 21-15 first-game lead. His angled returns, quick retrieval of the shuttle, depth placements of the birdie and ability to draw Johannesen to the net and then thump him with flat smashes established his domination in the match. In the second game, he went down after a close fight at 19-21. In the deciding third game, Priyanshu made his intentions clear by taking five consecutive points. Such was the ferocity of his attack that he would run up a 20-12 lead against the hapless Dane, who would attempt a comeback but in vain as the Indian clinched the title with an angled smash.
A trainee at Pullela Gopichand Academy in Hyderabad since 2010, Priyanshu modelled his game along the lines of his senior peers like Kidambi Srikanth and H.S. Prannoy. As a player, however, he is more influenced by Sameer Verma’s reflex defence. Against Nguyen, his idea to bring the Irish shuttler closer to the net benefited him by several counts, with Priyanshu stretching his body and plundering crucial points from attacking positions.
A shuttler from Dhar, Madhya Pradesh, Priyanshu, a son of a Rajasthani Xerox business owner, started playing badminton when he was six, following the footsteps of his elder brother Kunal Rajawat. Two years later, his quick feet impressed Gopichand during an event in Gwalior. Gopichand would soon take the boy under his wing at his Hyderabad academy, where he has trained since.
Being fast is seen as an advantage in badminton, but his coach Gopichand has always cautioned Priyanshu to be patient with his game since he seemed to be in a hurry to finish games. To improve his concentration, he has taken up meditation to become patient with his game. And that was evident in his play at Orleans.
As Priyanshu is currently enjoying a spell of great form, the maiden title at the Orleans Masters would bring him into the top 40 of world rankings and give his dream a wing to fly higher.
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