Sep 5: Manipur’s sporting world is dominated by boxing, football, weightlifting, led by shining stars like Mary Kom and Mirabai Chanu.
Maisnam Meiraba Luwang wants to add one more sport to that list—badminton. The 16-year-old shuttler has been creating quite a bit of noise in the junior domestic circuit following his recent exploits and believes that with his success, the game will also become popular in his home state.
“It is getting popular because every time there is something new about badminton, like when I win tournaments, the media covers it and people know more about the sport,” says the Manipuri. “Also, a lot of badminton halls have been built in community areas and people are taking to the sport.”
Meiraba has been on quite a roll in the junior circuit. Apart from bagging five consecutive boys’ singles titles in All India Junior Ranking Tournaments this year, the junior India No 1 also won the Russian Junior White Nights crown, without dropping a game, in Gatchina in July.
With such a record, the class 12 student was on Wednesday selected for the World Junior Championships, to be held in Kazan from October 7-13. “I don’t have aims. I only concentrate at the next tournament. Right now, I just want to do the best I can at the World Championships,” says the world No 12, who is currently taking a short break at his home in Imphal.
Meiraba’s father, Maisnam Romesh Luwang, is a badminton coach.
“I started (playing badminton) when I was 4-5. I used to play with my friends but my father being a coach inspired me and I began playing professionally when I was 7-8. My father always said that he’ll make me one of the best players and I always believed in him,” says Meiraba, who last week also reached the final of the $15,000 India Junior International in Pune. “When I am home, he coaches me and works on the physical aspect.”
Having conquered Manipur at the sub-junior level, Meiraba’s family decided to shift his base. So in 2013, the Manipuri joined the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy (PPBA) in Bengaluru where he has been training ever since under former chief national coach U Vimal Kumar.
“At that moment the only thing I wanted was to join a top academy which would have helped me get more opportunities and become better (as a player). I didn’t really care about anything else and just wanted to join the academy and improve. And immediately after joining, I started playing international tournaments,” says Meiraba. “Badminton is a mind game. When I was young I used to outsmart my opponents.”
Junior national coach and selector Sanjay Mishra has followed Meiraba’s career ever since he started winning U-13 and U-15 tournaments and now regards him as the brightest Indian prospect in boys’ singles.
“Physically he is very strong,” Mishra says from Raipur. “He has power and speed but has to work on his stamina to perform better internationally. We have to work on his consistency too.”
The 16-year-old is a big fan of Chinese great Lin Dan and looks to imbibe the qualities of the two-time Olympic champion in his game.
“When I get free time I like to watch games of Lin Dan. He is my idol. I admire his character. Most top players are consistent and calm during crucial points, they don’t think negative, they think what to do next. I want to be as calm as the big players,” says Meiraba, who is reading Rafael Nadal’s autobiography Rafa during his break in Imphal.
“That is his character: always believe in yourself, never give up and during crucial points, when you think it’s gone, focus and win it. Looking at Lin Dan people might think that he’s very aggressive but actually he is very calm inside.”