Image Credits: @riya
Another young badminton talent that has grown leaps and bounds over the past couple of years after winning tiple crown in the Israel Junior International, Riya Habbu has continued to shine bright ever since and only going to shine brighter and brighter.
The end of 2018, the whole of 2019 and the start of 2020 has been quite a productive year for Riya Habbu. Winning triple crown at Israel junior international (Girls Singles U-15, Girls Doubles U-15, Mixed-Doubles-U15), winner Girls Singles U-19, West Zone Individual and team event, Goa, Winner of Girls Singles U-19, Maharashtra Badminton state championships, Nagpur, represented India at the Junior Asian badminton championship, Indonesia, another triple crown in School Nationals, Madhya Pradesh (Girls Singles U-17 , Girls Doubles U-17, and team event gold), and a runner-up finish in the U-17 girls singles at the Khelo India Youth Games, 2020. It really couldn’t have gone much better for Riya who truly announced her progression from budding talent to full-blown wonderkid in recent years.
Hailing from Pune, Riya Habbu has rapidly become one of the best prospects to come through the renowned Nikhil Kanetkar Badminton Academy, Pune in recent years.
Riya has stated that current World No.4 Nozomi Okuhara of Japan is one of her badminton heroes, but their attitude and work rate couldn’t be any different. The biggest similarity between the two shuttlers is that both of them are blessed with ice-cool composure, enjoys long rallies and ready to battle with any shuttler.
Riya, who is currently studying in Sir Parashurambhau College, Pune is a proponent of perfect execution and precision, which is why she is more of a rally player. She is so far proven to be pretty comfortable on both center line and baseline, and that coupled with an astounding drive, drop, flick and retrieve as well, which is pretty much a requirement for all modern shuttlers, so it is easy to see why she is currently finds herself ranked India’s No.1 in the Girls U-17 category.
There’s a long way to go and many steps on the road, but the 16-year-old certainly has a bright future ahead of her.
At what age did you start in Badminton?
I started playing badminton at the age of 7 but started training professionally at the age of 10.
When did you say: yes, I will dedicate myself to badminton?
There was no particular moment where it hit me that I will dedicate myself to badminton. Even at a young age, I was sure that I wanted to pursue badminton. But yes, when my first title, I truly enjoyed the feeling of being on court.
Growing up, did you have any badminton idols?
Yes, growing up my badminton idols were Malaysian shuttler Lee Chong Wei and Thai shuttler Ratchanok Intanon. It was very inspirational to watch their matches and listen to their interviews.
We all know that you are successful in your sport. But the first win and the first trophy is always special. Do you remember your 1st success as a shuttler? If yes, how will you describe that moment?
My very first trophy was at a local tournament. I had unexpectedly won the girls singles U-11 title; it was a very special experience for me. I remember, I had upset the top seed in the very first round and then I went on to win the tournament.
It was an indescribable feeling of joy when you receive your very first trophy on the stage. That title motivated me to work harder.
Sport on an elite pathway requires dedication and commitment; aside from providing funding and transport for training, how did your parents support you emotionally pre-competition?
I have been blessed with such amazing parents. Emotionally they are super supportive; they understand me as an athlete because my dad comes from a sports background. I am very grateful for all the sacrifices they have made for me.
When a person is passionate about something, that thing is like a life for her. We all know that you are extremely passionate about badminton. What are your feelings when you take the racket in your hands?
Whenever I take the racket in my hand it is like I am a different person. I really enjoy training and being on the court. I think every player enjoys holding their racket as it is an indescribable feeling. There is so much you can learn with a racket in your hand.
Who’s your coach? Where do you train currently?
At the time, I was training in Pune under Mr. Nikhil Kanetkarsir and Mr. Mayank Gole sir at the Nikhil Kanetkar Badminton Academy, Balewadi, Pune ,but since the past three months, I am training at Suchitra Badminton Academy, Hyderabad.
How would you describe your playing style, and which shuttler would you compare it to?
I am more of a rally player. Even though the game style depends on who I am playing against I enjoy playing long rallies. It is similar to that of Japanese shuttler Nozomi Okuhara (World No.4).
What would you say is one aspect of your game that is a real strength for you?
I am a good retriever; that frustrates some players. I think that is something which acts as a strength.
So, what has been your biggest challenge or set back while playing badminton?
My biggest challenge would be mental rigidness; I think that is something I need to focus and improve on.
In your professional career, which has been 2 standout moments that have made you feel on top of the world?
Two standout moments which made me feel like I was at the top of the world were -
1) When I represented India at the Asian Junior Badminton Championships. Having INDIA printed at the back of the shirt is a proud moment.
2) When I found out that I was India No.1 at the starting of the year.
What would you be if not a badminton player?
I haven't thought of what I would do If I wasn't a badminton player but I would love to join the Army or serve the nation in any form.
What’s your favourite TV show and why?
My favourite TV Show is BROOKLYN 99. I binged it during the lockdown!
Non-badminton athletes that you admire the most and why?
I really admire Tennis sensation Naomi Osaka – I love how calm and composed she is on court. She is a really good role model off the court.
Virat Kohli – I enjoy watching him play because of his aggression on the pitch; I feel he is one of the best captains of the Indian team.
Which are your short and medium-term objectives as a Badminton player?
Short-term goal is to perform well in upcoming junior ranking tournaments. And my medium-term goal, for now, is to start playing the international circuit and break into the top-70.