Unlike most of his peers, Sathish Kumar Karunakaran has had a quiet start to his badminton career. While Lakshya Sen, Priyanshu Rajawat and Kiran George were making their mark at the junior international level, Sathish was only playing domestic tournaments.

Sathish Kumar Karunakaran won his first BWF Tour title.

“We decided to give him holistic training, make him a matured player before sending him for international tournaments,” says Sathish’s coach and former India international Ajit Wijetilekk.

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The approach seemed to have worked as the 22-year-old reached the final at his first international event, the 2021 Ukraine International, where he lost to Rajawat. He reached another final that year at the Hungarian International before winning his first international title last year in Cameroon.

This year, the Tamil Nadu shuttler has been in great form, reaching the Maldives International final in August and the Malaysia International semis in October before winning successive tournaments at the India International Challenge in Bengaluru and Chhattisgarh India International in Raipur in October-November.

On Sunday, after delivering at the lower strata of tournaments, Sathish stepped it up with his first BWF Tour title at the $100,000 Odisha Masters in Cuttack.

The Ajit Wijetilekk School of Badminton (AWSB) in Bengaluru product beat compatriot Ayush Shetty 18-21, 21-19, 14-21 in 66 minutes in the final. Shetty, more established and from the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy (PPBA), had also won bronze at the World Junior Championships in October.

Sathish had overcome defending champion and 2023 Indonesia Masters winner Kiran George in the semis and Chirag Sen in the quarters.

“Sathish has played very well and been very consistent this year beating top players like (national champion) Mithun Manjunath and Kiran. He has good scope and is a good prospect for Indian badminton. His height (6’3”) is a big advantage. He has been working on his strength and has good perspective on court,” says national selector and former chief national coach, U Vimal Kumar.

Sathish’s rise can be gauged from his ranking ascendency. After reaching the final in Ukraine, the Coimbatore native was world No.508. He cracked the top 100 within a year. After a stellar 2023, he has risen to No.61, overtaking Olympian B Sai Praneeth, Sameer Verma, World Junior Championships silver medallist Sankar Muthusamy and Mithun. He is expected to break into the top 50 following the strong performances of late.

“We aim to enter the top 10. Sathish was a very defensive player earlier, but he is a very able student. His biggest learning is that he has been able to switch to an offensive game. He has developed good skill sets, has a lot of control at the net and his smashes and hits make him an all-round player. His maturity helps in controlling the game, which could be seen in Cuttack,” said Ajit.

Sathish has also developed into a solid mixed doubles player, reaching five finals with fellow academy player Aadya Variyath. They have won two titles — Maldives International and Chhattisgarh India International – this year. The duo is India’s third best pair, behind Rohan Kapoor/N Sikki Reddy and B Sumeeth Reddy/Ashwini Ponnappa.

Dhruv-Tanisha win

Japan’s former world champion Nozomi Okuhara won the women’s singles title beating Hong Kong’s Sin Yan Happy Lo 21-7, 21-23, 22-20 while India’s Dhruv Kapila and Tanisha Crasto won the mixed doubles, beating Singapore’s top seeds Terry Hee/Jessica Tan 17-21, 21-19, 23-21. Tanisha, however, lost the women’s doubles final partnering Ashwini Ponnappa and Krishna Prasad Garaga and K Sai Pratheek the men’s doubles final.

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