Not so long ago, Tamil Nadu in south India rang no bells in badminton. The city was better known for tennis.
So it’s perhaps no surprise that at five, Sankar Muthusamy Subramanian followed in the footsteps of his father Subramaniam, who was a Tamil Nadu state-level tennis player. Interestingly, though, the dalliance with tennis lasted just two months.
“My father was a tennis player, so our family was always into sport,” said Muthusamy, best known for his silver medal at the BWF World Junior Championships last year. “I took up tennis when I was five, but after a couple of months, for no particular reason, I switched to badminton.”
The year that went by, Muthusamy’s last as a junior, was one of quiet satisfaction at the milestones he’d reached. He achieved the junior world No.1 ranking, was runner-up at the World Juniors, and broke into the senior top 100, which had been his goal at the beginning of the year.
At the World Juniors the left-hander showed tenacity, presence of mind, and adaptability to different styles. The most impressive of his wins was in the quarterfinal against China’s Hu Zhe An, when he ground out his opponent in a marathon that went 91 minutes.
A day later, against Thailand’s strokeful Panitchaphon Teeraratsakul, he switched to a more counterattacking game, playing “defence at a good pace” as he put it, and earning a spot in the final against Chinese Taipei’s Kuo Kuan Lin.
What stood out was the calm consistency of his game, built on long hours in the humid seaside city of Chennai at his coach Aravindan’s Fireball Badminton Academy. Unlike many players who tend to outgrow their childhood coaches, Muthusamy has remained with the same coach who initiated him into badminton.
And while his game is built on a defensive style, his coach has been speaking of making him a more all-round player. To that end, he has been working on building a more attacking game.
“I’m a defensive player. I’m very comfortable playing the long game,” says Muthusamy. “Now I’ve started working on power, and towards a more attacking style. Training consists of three sessions, two hours every session. In total, I train about eight hours a day.”
With the juniors behind him now, he will step into a harsher, more competitive world. At his first event in 2023, the Iran Fajr International, he fell in the second round.
Yet, for now, he can still relish the aftertaste of the World Juniors, where he became only the third Indian to reach the final, after Saina Nehwal (2008) and Siril Verma (2015).