Janani taking impressive strides

badminton

Janani Ananthakumar of Karnataka has made rapid progress in the last six months, rising up the national badminton rankings. DH Photo/ Savitha b r

Till last December, Janani Ananthakumar was a nobody in the Indian badminton scene. But at the Sub-Junior National Championship in Bengaluru six months ago, the unheralded Karnataka shuttler made a big statement.

One doesn’t expect a wild card entrant to last the distance but Janani nearly did, faltering only in the final to settle for a silver medal. In a gutsy effort, she ousted four seeded players --including the second seed -- in consecutive matches, to thrill the home crowd and grab attention from coaches and fellow competitors alike.  

“There was no expectation from me in that tournament,” the Bengaluru girl tells DH. “I had nothing to lose. So I played with a free mind. I enjoyed every match. My parents and coach asked me not to get intimidated by the rankings of my opponents and just focus on my game. Perhaps that helped me post some big wins,” she says.  

The Sub-junior meet was Janani’s breakthrough event. Since then, the 16-year-old’s career graph is on an upward trajectory. As many as three gold medals have pushed Janani to fifth in the U-17 girls’ singles national rankings. She is the only player from Karnataka to be in the top five. In the doubles, at No 7, she is the third player from the State, after Kriti Bharadwaj and Tanya Hemanth in the top 10.   

Janani welcomed 2019 with a gold in the U-19 team event at the School Games Federation of India (SGFI) meet in Aurangabad in January. With Tanya, another fast-improving shuttler, Janani bagged twin gold medals, triumphing in All-India tournaments in Imphal and Guwahati. Janani wrapped up the Guwahati meet with a bronze in the mixed doubles section with Suhas V.

The double delight is set to give her a berth in the Indian squad for the Asian Junior Badminton championship. That Janani has made rapid strides despite being a late bloomer speaks volumes about her hunger to learn. While most of her peers received formal training at the age of six or seven, Janani first began training under a coach when she was 11. Living in Muscat, Janani developed interest in badminton at summer camps in Bengaluru during her annual visits to India.  

“Her trainers in school advised us that if she (Janani) had to make it big in badminton it is better she moved to India. It was a tough call considering my husband (Ananthakumar, electrical engineer) couldn’t afford to quit his job. So in 2014, we decided that only I will move with Janani and her elder sister to Bengaluru. We wanted to give Janani a chance to pursue her interest. During our days, parents doubted children’s choices, especially with regards to sports. We didn’t want to disappoint Janani,” explains Janani’s mother Jaya.    

The youngster is relieved that her gruelling fitness routines have provided the required results. “It was literally dying on the court day in and day out. Some days, I couldn’t move my legs,” says Janani, a second year PUC student of Sindhi PU College.

An attacking player, Janani is a fighter on court, having the ability to stage come-from-behind victories. But her lack of patience has cost her many crucial matches. “I am working on developing more patience, especially in rallies. I have improved on this aspect. In the rallies, I don’t want to be the one giving up first,” says Janani, who first under trained DYES coach Sudhakar at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium.  

Krishna Kumar, Janani’s current coach at I Sports, is impressed with her progress. “When she joined our academy two years ago, we made her play against well-established players. She began showing encouraging results and we realised she is someone who deserved individual attention. She has taken less time to pick up the skills. However, we are working on her mental strength. She can get shaky against big names,” he explains.

Janani echoes her coach’s observation. “Pressure is something I need to learn to handle. Earlier, I was just another player and there was less attention on me. Now people recognise you and your achievements. Of course, my confidence level has gone up. My rankings have improved so there are expectations from me. It’s not easy to be at the top,” she says.

At the All-India meet in Bengaluru next week, Janani aims to make a mark and seal a berth in the World Junior Championship squad.

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