Sankar Muthusamy puts Chennai on the badminton map

The reigning world junior badminton championship finalist, S. Sankar Muthusamy is way too mature for his age. The 18-year-old speaks exceptionally well for a boy, who hasn’t stepped into school or college for a while.

Giving us a peek into Sankar’s way of thinking, his long-time coach Aravindan Samiappan, says: “When Sankar is with boys of his age, he sometimes asks me: ‘Sir, why are they kiddish?’. I tell him they are not kiddish it is just that you are too mature!’”

Aravindan says Sankar loves being with him, his parents and seldom moves with others and he perhaps likes it that way.

That way the number of precious hours he has spent with Aravindan at the Fireball Badminton Academy in Mogappair East in sharpening his game has been quite instrumental in the Chennai lad reaching the final of the World junior badminton championships (he lost to Kuo Kuan Lin of Chinese Taipei) in Santander and becoming World No.1 in juniors in August this year.

It’s been a culmination of the hard yards put at the academy and the love, support and sacrifice of his father Subramanian.

Subramanian was working in a secure job at Madras Port Trust when he got voluntary retirement in 2016 just to travel with his son for tournaments in India and abroad. Subramanian refuses to talk about what he has done for his son. It’s clear he wants his son to excel.

On his father’s sacrifice, Sankar says what he did was unique which no father would dare to do. “”When I was in my U-13, he quit his job. It was too early for both–for me to focus full time on badminton and for him to quit the job. When nobody saw the road ahead, my father and coach Aravindan saw the path. It was a brave decision and glad that I’ve come this far,” he proudly says.

The only time, Sankar says, he still faces some financial hurdles is when he heads to Europe for tournaments. “I am sufficiently supported by GoSports, and I am in the Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) main program. In Europe, the expenses come to around 4-6 lakhs. Then, there is financial trouble. It’s no big deal from now onwards as I have won the silver in World juniors,” he says.

Moreover, Aravindan and Subramanian are good friends. “Subramanian is very peculiar in the sense that he is a big risk-taker like me. He is only worried when he is not able to borrow money for his son. The biggest part of taking risks is not to feel too bad if it doesn’t click. That’s the best part of me and Subramanian,” says the 45-year-old coach.

Over the last decade or so, junior or senior players who have done well at the International level have mostly emerged from the stables of either Pullela Gopi Chand Academy in Hyderabad or Prakash Padukone Academy in Bengaluru.

Sankar has successfully bucked the trend and he argues that staying at Fireball Academy has only made him stronger. He is not exposed to other players and has the freedom to train and decide for himself. “Here, I am training alone. There are no regular competitors and I can implement my own ideas,” he says.

For Sankar to continue to succeed at the higher level, he says he has to do well in Super 100, 300 and 500 events. “I have to be on the podium of these events. The ultimate goal will be to reach the top 30 of world rankings [current world ranking 108],” he says.

Aravindan admits his academy is not the best yet as it doesn’t have an integrated facility that sports science demands: a fitness and conditioning coach, well-equipped gym, swimming pool, fitness and mental trainer, and a physio among other things in one place. “I’ve always believed that every academy has its own strengths and weaknesses. When one moves to seniors, most talk about sparring partners. It is one part but is a crucial one too. That cannot be matched by me, honestly. We have certain deficiencies. But we are slowly getting there,” he says.

Tamil Nadu, Aravindan asserts, has a lot of talent. “We have 4-5 very good senior players and 40-50 sub-juniors and juniors who have won medals in national tournaments. Our bench strength is second to none. However, a few players have migrated to bigger academies. The good part is that Tamil Nadu Badminton Association (TNBA) is aware of everything and is keen to do good for its players. It has to happen. I will fight for it,” says Aravindan, who is also the secretary of Chennai District Badminton Association.

For Tamil Nadu to produce International players of repute like Sankar, TNBA and the government will have to put their heads together and come up with a few solid programmes.

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