Unheralded Anupama Upadhyaya could have broken Saina Nehwal’s long-standing record had she converted one of her two match points in the final of the Uganda International Series.
However, Anupama Upadhyaya failed to capitalize on her two match points as Malvika Bansod rallied back to edge past her younger rival 17-21, 25-23, 21-10 in an hour-long summit clash at Kampala on February 28, 2021.
Anupama Upadhyaya was 16 years and 12 days old on that day. Had she managed to grab those two crucial points she would have set a new national record. She would have become the youngest Indian to win the international badminton title in the senior category.
On May 27, 2006, Saina Nehwal had scripted history when she became the first Indian ever to win the women’s singles title of the Philippines Open when Anupama Upadhyaya was just a year old.
The 16-year-old unseeded Indian had shocked seventh seed and world No. 66 Pei Xian Julia Wong of Malaysia 21-15, 22-20 in the final at Pasig City, Manila. Saina was 16 years, two months and ten days old when she won her maiden senior title.
When Anupama Upadhyaya was competing in the final against her Indian counterpart Malvika Bansod in Uganda, she did not know about Saina Nehwal’s record. That is perhaps the reason behind why she did not regret the missed opportunity.
“It would have been great had I broken Saina Nehwal’s record and became the youngest Indian to win the senior international title. I had a chance but could not keep my nerves in control at the crucial junctures. My opponent (Malvika Bansod) was senior to me and ranked much higher to me. She did not allow me to convert my two match points in the extended second game. It was not my day but I don’t regret it. I will get many more chances to win the title in the future,” said Anupama Upadhyaya.
Anupama Upadhyaya has impressed in internationals
Anupama Upadhyaya, a trainee at Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy (PPBA), Bengaluru, has shown a lot of promise in her limited appearances in senior international tournaments.
So far, Anupama Upadhyaya has participated in only three senior tournaments and has done well in all of them. She finished runner-up twice (2021, Uganda and 2020, Kenya) and made it to the semifinals of the Uganda International on her debut last year. On her way to reaching the final in Uganda four months ago, Anuapama knocked out top seed Dorcas Ajoke Adesokan of Nigeria 21-9, 21-7 in the quarter-finals and Tanya Hemanth in the semis.
“This is my last year in the Under-17 category but I have already started playing in the seniors. I will play both in the juniors as well as seniors for a couple of more years. Performance in the seniors automatically improves your confidence while playing in the juniors. I want to reach the top-10 in the world rankings in the Under-19 girls singles by the end of the year. Since I have two more years in the juniors I can certainly reach higher but the target is to do well in the seniors,” said Anuapama Upadhyaya, who is the world No. 39 in the U-19 girls singles.
The reigning Under-15 girls’ singles national champion Anuapama had surprised several seeded players to reach the semi-finals in the Under-19 Nationals in Andhra Pradesh in December 2019. It helped her climb to the No. 8 spot in the BAI U-19 rankings.
“In 2019 I performed really well in both the U-15 and U-19 Nationals. I emerged champion in the U-15 singles and got a bronze in the U-19 singles. These two major domestic tournaments boosted my confidence as I managed to upset several seeded players in both the tourneys,” said Anupama Upadhyaya, ranked 240 in the world in the women’s singles.
Before joining PPBA earlier this year, Anupama trained at Almora in Uttarakhand under senior coach DK Sen. She also trained for a year under Shrikant Bakshi in New Delhi. However, in domestic tournaments she represents Haryana as they offer her good facilities. She had represented India in the Asian Sub-Junior Championship and played in Surabaya, Indonesia, in 2019.
Anupama’s father Naveen Upadhyay has made a lot of sacrifices and even shifted his family to Bengaluru for the career of his daughter.
Anupama Upadhyaya’s father resigned as a Delhi Police sub-inspector last year
Behind every successful sportsperson there is a tale of sacrifice and Anupama Upadhyaya’s case is no different.
“We have now completely shifted from Delhi to Bengaluru. I was in Delhi Police but I resigned in March 2020 as a sub-inspector to focus on my daughter’s badminton career. We have taken a flat on rent near PPBA. Staying together will provide her mental support. She won’t have to worry about anything if we are close to her. We want to see our daughter represent the senior Indian team one day in the Olympics,” said Naveen Upadhyaya, who is thankful to PPBA head coach Vimal Kumar and DK Sen for guiding her over the last few years.
The last few months have been very tough for the Upadhyaya family, as they have lost two members to Covid-19.
“I lost my mother and father-in-law due to Coronavirus. Except for our two daughters, all the members of my family, including me, were down with Covid-19. We are now slowly recovering from the trauma. I just want my daughter to excel on the badminton court and bring glory to the nation in future,” said Naveen Upadhyaya.