'I want to be the best player in the country'

As Saina Nehwal sauntered to the net after a comfortable victory, she found an opponent, her tender face beaming, eager to shake her hand. For 17-year-old Riya Mukherjee just playing her idol in Yonex Sunrise India Open was one of the thrilling moments of her life. Like many starry-eyed teenagers, Mukherjee had followed Nehwal.

Her boycut hair casually fell on her forehead, her curious eyes, shining, belying her harsh
defeat. Many moons ago, Saina, too, had similarly cropped hair with two tiny circular earrings dangling from her ears. She didn’t have the measured replies, which come effortlessly to her today, but the raw boldness and enthusiasm which has catapulted her to the top of world badminton.

In contrast, Mukherjee is shy but perceptive, her strokes possessing variety and fluency. The sleeves of her pink top are embossed with the signature of Nehwal, though she couldn’t gather the guts to speak to her. “I am frightened of her,” she blurted out before quickly cupping her mouth to hide the innocuous giggle.

Before long, her head was cocked up as she analysed her match. “I was nervous. I
did not want to embarrass myself and lose with a big score. She (Saina) is mentally very strong and I would like to emulate her. I thought I played better in the second game. I wanted to see my level through this match.

“It was a great learning experience. Her stamina and accuracy of strokes is something I need to have to play at that level,” the talented youngster told Metrolife.However, it was not Nehwal but her father, Indrajeet Mukherjee, who is the reason for her to take up badminton. A promising talent during his days, Mukherjee senior was the junior national champion, before a road accident cut short his career. He now wants to live his dream though Riya.

“My initial training was under my father in Kolkata. I have now shifted to the national training centre in Lucknow. There are good Indonesian coaches in the academy. I want to stick to Lucknow for the time being because I do not want my studies to get
disturbed,” said the Class XI student.

Mukherjee’s achievements include becoming an under-15 national champion in 2012 and a silver medal in mixed doubles in junior Asian Championship. But she made her mark qualifying for two big international events in India this year—Syed Modi GPG and India Open, here.

“I am an attacking player and I want to be the best player in the country,” said Mukherjee and suddenly stopped. Nehwal was leaving the room after finishing her media obligations. The fan in Mukherjee was restless, but she held back. “May be I can meet her next time, when I put up a better performance than today,”  she smiled.

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