Going by the looks, game and the temperament, 14-year old Unnati Hooda reminds one of Saina Nehwal of the early 2000s. Much like Saina, Unnati, hailing from Haryana, arrived on the national scene sporting short hair, armed with tremendous grit and blessed with a never-say-die attitude on the court.
On Wednesday evening, the Badminton Association of India’s selection committee took a historic call. The decision to include the teenager in the national team for Uber Cup and Asian Games also resulted in slamming the door on Saina for the first time in nearly two decades. In short, the arrival of Unnati has coincided with the exit of Saina from the national team.
READ: Fourteen-year-old Unnati becomes youngest shuttler in senior Indian team for Asian Games
Unnati, the youngest winner of the BWF’s Super 100 event after annexing the Odisha Open in January this year, has results to show her progress. During that event, Unnati upstaged higher-ranked players like Samiya Imad Farooqi and Malvika Bansod, the conqueror of Saina in the Indian Open.
Since the beginning of the six-day trial in the Capital coincided with the final of the All India ranking (under-19) event in Bengaluru, Unnati chose to skip the final and airdashed here. She went on to top her preliminary group, but lost to Aakarshi Kashyap and Ashimta Chaliha before beating Aditi Bhatt in the top-four group league to finish third.
“Unnati is a tremendous talent whose game needs to be honed,” says four-time former National champion Manjusha Kanwar, one of the selectors. “In my view, she is a fine retriever and combines it with strong staying power on the court. Her will to fight reminds me of Saina. She tries very hard and that is visible to all. These are great attributes to have in an upcoming player.”
So far, Unnati’s father, Upkar, has doubled up as her coach and her brother, as a sparring partner. Now, the selection to the national team should see a few leading badminton academies approach Unnati with attractive offers. After all, true to her name, Unnati is a work in progress.