Some medals – that aren’t gold – come coated with a matte finish of serious lessons for the future. Ayush Shetty, 19, returned with a bronze from the Badminton World Junior championship in Spokane, USA, after losing to eventual champion, Indonesia’s Alwi Farhan, in the semifinal. He led 16-14 in the opener before his fast-paced opponent took 4-5 points continuously to leave him with a blitz, from which he gleaned out many tough lessons.
One among those, is how to not fall for mind games – like delays when receiving serve. Another, lessons in facing serious pace, because Alwi could accelerate mid-rally, which will be the staple when Shetty graduates into seniors. “In the second set he led 4-12, and I made it 13-13, but it wasn’t enough,” Shetty told The Indian Express on his return having played his last juniors, and ready to hop into the seniors circuit playing International series and Challengers, starting with the Infosys meet in the coming month.
This ‘next Shetty of Indian badminton’, for Chirag dominates headlines right now, also comes from Mangalore, and spent his early years there, but is now training at the Padukone academy in Bangalore. Ayush’s father played the sport in the backyard, and got his tall son started with district meets. After his state ranking meets, the father took a crucial call to pack him off to Bangalore which boasted of better academies.
“I’m tall like my father, who’s 6 feet. I’m 194 cms, so I inherited the build. But he took an important decision to send me to Bangalore. My mother and sister shifted with me, but my father, who works in finance, had to stay back. It’s been tough to stay away from him,” Ayush says.
Starting out with coach Chetan in his earliest years, he moved to Baddy Zone of Mohit Kamath and finally I-Sports of Krishna Kumar. The shift to Padukone happened thereafter, though the titles would take time to start coming in. “I was not very good till 2019. But I won my first title after Covid. For 4-5 tournaments after that I was stuck at quarterfinals, before winning at Bahadurgarh. Mt fitness was down, which was the major area coaches at PPBA worked on. Now I’m confident,” he says.
Given his near 6’2 frame, his attack with smashes is his strongest suit. “I definitely need to work on my defense,” he says.
Growing into his body
While coach Umendra Rana accompanied him to Spokane, back in Bangalore, Vimal Kumar has drilled into him the importance of getting fitter and stronger to max out that height. He spars with the stars often – from Lakshya Sen, he wishes to learn about improving speed on court and confidence. From Mithun Manjunath, his strokes, and from Kiran George, the variations from the back court.
While Shetty got just 7-8 days to train at Guwahati’s National Centre of Excellence, the experience was helpful. “Getting the visas and appointments took up a lot of time and focus,” he explains. But Shetty benefitted from having Korean coach Park Tae Sang courtside. “He suggested many variations in attacking strokes, and a few things at the net. I usually dribble a lot, but he advised me to play faster from the net,” Shetty says.
The Indian team took a day or two to come to terms with jet lag, after the 12-and-a-half hour flight and the visa scramble, and couldn’t do much in the team events. In the individual, Shetty played upcoming Japanese shuttler Yudai Okimoto in quarters. “I had lost to him earlier, but played very well this time. I was confident in my defense, and ready to play long, patient rallies,” he says. The new world junior champ Alwi’s pace, though, bothered Shetty.
Built like Viktor Axelsen, Shetty wants to play like the Dane too, though he realises he’ has a long way to go in defense. At Bangalore, he digs playing cricket too and bats, AB de Villiers being his favourite and follows Barcelona’s fortunes in football.
India has a bunch of medallists in World Juniors, but transitions to seniors are never smooth. “It won’t be easy, but I’m confident,” Shetty says. Much of the excitement surrounding Ayush Shetty is owing to his height and reach and steep attack. But the long strides will be measured on the seniors scale.