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How Anupama Upadhyaya applied her Asian Games learnings to bag National Games gold

At the score of 8-5 in the first set of the National Games 2023 badminton women’s singles final, Anupama Upadhyaya pulled off a deceptive flick, which she learned from her idol former World No. 1 Tai Tzu Ying, that landed right at the edge of the backline. That gave her a four-point lead over Aditi Bhatt.

Such was the happiness after pulling it off that she saved the recording of the shot on her phone. “I showed it to my family and told them, ‘See I played this shot, and she couldn’t do anything.”

The 18-year-old went on to win the gold medal in her maiden National Games appearance in straight sets 21-13 21-18, right after coming from Hangzhou where she was part of the Asian Games squad in the women’s team event.

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She has had a memorable 2023 so far, where not only has she tasted success but has spent time with the likes of PV Sindhu and HS Prannoy, and got a glimpse of how world number one An Se Young trains, during her time in China last month.

“I saw her (An Se Young) how effortlessly she moves around the court and how smooth her stepping is. She doesn’t play with stress and is very calm on the court,” Anupama told Sportstar.

Practising with big names over the last few weeks helped her get into the games with a much better gameplay and the idea of reading different situations.

“During the National Games, I used a lot of fast drops, following up after hitting a smash, and playing downward strokes. I learned this and practiced with Gopi sir (Pullela Gopichand) during our practice sessions,” she said.

Anupama said that one of the learnings in the Asian Games was the importance of strength and that she has been actively working with Reliance Foundation to gain that. Apart from that, she has also worked on her mental strength as well.

“I feel very calm when I play on court.”

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In the quarterfinal match against Isharani Baruah, Anupama was one set down but quickly realised that her opponent had become a bit tired and was playing negatively. Anupama began playing long rallies, waited for Isharani to make a mistake and eventually won 21-16 16-21 21-12.

“Now gradually I have started to understand what is happening in the game. Earlier when I used to concede consecutive points then my mind would go blank. But in this tournament, I saw change in myself,” said.

What does the future hold for her?

Despite a good stint in the Asian Games, Anupama said that her goal isn’t the 2024 Olympics but the 2026 Commonwealth Games and Los Angeles Olympics in 2028. She said that it is “impossible” for her to get into top 16 right now because of the current low ranking.

“My current focus is to play different international tournaments and get into the top 50 by next year. I want to play super 300, 500 tournaments as well to gain experience in playing the big players,” Anupama, who is currently ranked 86th in women’s singles ranking said.

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