The rise, fall, and rise of Sameer Verma - India's latest badminton Champion
Indian shuttler Sameer Verma clinched his first international title of 2018 - the Swiss Open Super 300, by beating former world no. 2 and world championship bronze medallist Jan O Jorgensen of Denmark 21-15, 21-13. After enduring a challenging spell with injury towards the end of 2017, Sameer seems to have recovered well and a title early in the year will give him the much needed confidence ahead of a grueling badminton season.
Following his victory, Sameer said, “I am very happy to win my first international title for the year. The last few months have been quite challenging as I had to recover from a shoulder injury due to which I had to miss a few tournaments, eventually leading to my ranking going down. But I needed the time out to nurse my injury so that I could recover and be fit again from the beginning of this year. This victory is definitely a morale booster going ahead in the season.”
The match itself was a relatively simple affair with Jan O also making his comeback from injury. However, for the 23-year-old Indian this win represents the beginning of another effort to claw his way back into the world top 20 in men's singles. In a way, it is reflective of the see-saw career he has had since breaking into the top 100 as a 17-year-old, way back in 2012. A year later, he was chosen by GoSports Foundation as one of the prodigious talents in Indian badminton and was offered financial support, mainly towards his international competitions.
Sameer’s battles with injuries however were intense and recurrent. The next two years, Sameer would spend oscillating between 120's and 250's in the world rankings. Much like the proverb "the night is always darkest before the dawn", however, Sameer's ascendancy began and within a year (by December 2015) he had broken into the world top 50. He continued to thrive, reaching the semis in the 2016 Bitburger Open and the finals of the Hong Kong Open in November, where, interestingly, he beat the very same Jan O Jorgensen - then ranked 40 places above him - in the semis. He then went on to win the 2017 Syed Modi International Grand Prix Gold in January, completing a memorable 3 months. His consistent international performances ensured that he had reached a career high ranking of 18 in the world by Sep. 2017.
Then came yet another injury; this time it was the playing shoulder bothering him. Sameer consulted with the Head of Sports Science at GoSports Foundation, John Gloster.
Over the next few months, an entire team of experts, including John Gloster, physiotherapist Anuja Dalvi, shoulder specialist Dr. Deepak Bhatia, and radiologist Dr. Aditya Daftary worked in harmony for one athlete. The coaches at the Gopichand Academy led by Chief National Coach Pullela Gopichand guided Sameer through this difficult phase and unconditionally trusted the injury management experts. Sameer adds, "I've been fortunate to train at the Gopichand Academy for years now, with the best sparring partners and coaches in the country. I would also like to thank GoSports Foundation for supporting and guiding me, and providing me access to an amazing team of sports science experts who oversaw my rehabilitation regime and helped me get back into shape."
Sameer's coach P.Gopichand was also ecstatic with his victory and said, 'I think the way Sameer has played is something fantastic. He is somebody whom we definitely can believe in for the future and this win should give him the confidence which is much needed. As an athlete, he had his ups and downs. He had his injuries but I am happy to see the way he has progressed and would like to thank the entire team of coaches and support staff who have ensured that he is back and hopefully he has a great season going forward.'
Sameer will no doubt be disappointed to have missed his chance of making it to the 2018 Commonwealth Games squad, but can take heart from the fact that his recent injury troubles are behind him. What lies ahead is a packed season filled with intense matches, the possibility of more big wins and upsets, and an opportunity to stamp his authority on the extremely competitive world of men's badminton, with a family that cheers him on at every step, some of the world's best coaches guiding his rise to the top, and a ready support team behind him. Badminton fans, time to tune in and watch.