For someone so young and quite fresh in her professional pursuing of the sport of badminton, Assam girl Ashmita Chaliha has managed to claim a certain distinction that goes beyond her count of the medals and numbers. Pitted already as the next best Indian player after stalwarts Saina Nehwal and P V Sindhu by one of the doyens of the game itself, this 23 year old shuttler sure displays a promise that is way ahead of what she has already curated a starry show of.
That she is touted next in line to two of the country’s most decorated sportspersons, either of them being Olympic medalists, only makes the comparison more overwhelming. But it only is what former Chief National Coach of India Vimal Kumar alluded to in all conviction of the kind of character Chaliha has shown throughout. Himself a French Open winner and an Olympian and also a Dronacharya Awardee, Kumar’s foreseeing for Ashmita in such light of recognition backed indeed by decades of experience and expertise is no mean a feat that the youngster has earned as testimony of her sporting spirit.
This parallel with the first ever Indian woman who made her way to top of the world badminton rankings would obviously resound well with Ashmita herself who regards Nehwal as an inspiration. In fact, having shared the same room with one of India’s most successful badminton players at the 2018 Asian Games, the regard grew even greater for her childhood idol of this game that Ashmita was however not particularly interested in.
Born as the younger daughter of a tennis player, it was her father’s desire to make sportspersons out of his children that made a young Ashmita follow in the footsteps of her sister. Badminton just happened to be the choice due to the simple reason that they lived close by the Sports Authority of India complex in Guwahati at that time. And it being this game of hitting the shuttlecock that was being taught then at the academy did Ashmita Chaliha was directed by destiny to embark on this path of what would lead her to distinction.
Her passion for badminton only peaked when she began winning at the game- a period of self discovery that also coincided with the emergence of Saina Nehwal on the scene. Chaliha’s interest in pursuing the sport was further piqued by the fresh lease of life Nehwal infused into its playing. And while a young Ashmita did indeed aspire to become like her India senior, the influence on her sporting spirit was enormous also in what entailed from Malayasian Olympic medal list Lee Chong Wei.
This facet of her personality that had her looking up to also a male player to try and emulate isn’t just a certain unique gameplay that the 2023 BWF Badminton Hall of Fame inductee practised. It also is as much an extension of the kind of play that Chaliha herself has been furthering all along and that which also makes her one of the unique prospects to emerge in Indian badminton in recent years.
Having derived her style of play out of routine sessions of practice with the boys, Ashmita’s natural emergence as a left handed player brings upon her a certain quality that only exemplifies the extent of her potential. She has been playing badminton since the age of seven and more than a decade and a half later, she continues to reinvent herself as well as the strokes she plays. Asserting as an aggressive player who loves to attack, it has been such combination of factors that only ups the ante when it comes to listing Chaliha already up there with the more established names on the badminton court.
Ashmita’s career as being a part of the national team kicked off at the junior level when she competed at the 2017 BWF World Junior Championships and the Badminton Asian Junior Championships the same year. Her appearance at both the events was marked by early exits and while it was not the kind of start that anyone would look forward to, Chaliha did not have to wait long to prove her mettle. Prior to that though, Ashmita’s medal tally had already come to bear a steady count as winners of the singles event at the Inter- State Badminton Championship (North East Zone) and as part of the mixed team event at the first South Asian Regional Badminton Tournament. She also emerged runners-up in the U-19 Girls’ Singles at the All India Junior Ranking Badminton Tournament.
Chaliha tasted greater success less than a year later when she did not settle for anything less than the gold at the 2018 Dubai International Challenge in the women’s singles event. This also marked her first senior international title that she followed up with a similar standing at the India International Challenge just a fortnight after.
But the highlight of 2018 for Ashmita Chaliha definitely was when she was selected to be part of the Indian team for the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia. She earned the opportunity indeed by securing an upset win at the All India Senior Ranking Tournament and getting to be in the mix with Nehwal and Sindhu. And while it would not be yet that such a grand event would prove to be the perfect stage for the youngster, her experience as simply being a part of the Indian contingent itself would be memorable.
Not one to let her identity be subdued for long, the feisty Ashmita returned to rule in 2019 with top finishes upon the podium at the 2019 South Asian Games. Chaliha clinched gold at both the women’s singles and team events even when she did not quite impress in her team appearance at the 2019 Badminton Asia Mixed Team Championships.
The next couple of years put an unexpected halt to competitive proceedings due to the global outbreak of the COVID 19 pandemic. Coupled with a bunch of injuries, Ashmita’s plans of breaking into the top 50 too was rendered an indefinite happening in view of the prevailing circumstances. The progress that she had made till then though had been quite promising. Within a year of being world No. 282 in 2018, Ashmita had already scaled up the ranks to foray into the realm of being the top 100 global shuttlers.
That proved to be quite a frustrating period of wait for the aspirational Chaliha whose next big tournament would not come to be until the year opening Indian Open tournament in 2022. However in this as well as the following tournament of the Odisha Open, podium finishes proved to be elusive for the out of routine and therefore nervous Ashmita. She though still did stun the World No. 28 at the Indian Open but that did not quite impact Chaliha’s standing in the tournament. Her performances at the 2022 Badminton Asia Team Championships, the Swiss Open and the 2022 Orleans Masters too failed to matter. It would be finally the 2022 Bangladesh International that would yield for Ashmita Chaliha a result asserting her return to prominence.
At the 2023 Maldives International held in June, she finally regained her golden touch and managed to attain also a career best ranking of 42 the same month. Currently the World No. 49 and raring to go all out better and more aggressive than ever, such that the expectations of being the next big name in Indian badminton are lived up to and honored, Ashmita Chaliha does indeed paint a rosy picture of difference. With eyes set firm on the 2024 Olympics- a dream pursued with coach Edwin Iriawan who had also played a crucial part in Nehwal’s epochal emergence on the scene and her subsequent taking over it, this lean lady from the northeastern part of the country resides in an image of far greater prominence. After all, as someone already having earned comparisons with the nation’s best while also invoked images of the legendary Carolina Marin- at least in her left handed assertion and aggressive play, Ashmita Chaliha sure is the sensation that Indian badminton would be rendered more powerful with.