Indian badminton found a new star this week in Sameer Verma. The 22-year-old had a breakthrough tournament in Hong Kong, where he entered as an qualifier and ended up going all the way to the final, before losing 14-21 21-10 11-21 to local favourite Ng Ka Long Angus in a contest which lasted 50 minutes.
Here's all you need to know about the new kid on the block
His dream week in Hong Kong
All the attention in Hong Kong was on PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal -- the two were heading for a blockbuster semi-final showdown before the latter's exit at the quarter-final stage. But on Saturday, Sameer Verma caught the attention of the badminton fraternity big time.
Jan O Jorgensen, World No. 3 and winner of China Open a fortnight back, was stunned by the Indian in straight games. Sameer, who was ranked 43, completely outplayed the Danish star -- showing quick reflexes, excellent crowd coverage and brilliant jump smashes.
In the final, he was against the local favourite, Verma was slow off the tracks and lost the first game in just 15 minutes. However, he roared back in the next game with some fine strokes from the baseline. The 3rd game was close, but Angus held his nerve.
Runs in the family
Sameer is the younger brother of Sourabh Verma, a more familiar name in the Indian badminton circles. The elder brother is currently ranked 45th in the world.
2016 has been a good year for Sameer. He recorded his maiden win at the nationals and in a bittersweet final, defeated his brother Sourabh to lift the title. With the win in Nationals, Sameer joined a select club of Indians who have won both junior and senior national titles.
After starting 2015 with a ranking over 250, he reached a career-high 35 earlier this year and that is likely to bettered when the next set of rankings are announced.
Another Gopichand find
Pullela Gopichand, the man who keeps throwing more names into the mix for Indian badminton, is the mentor for Sameer as well. As part of the GoSports' Badminton Development Programme, Sameer is in safe hands. Gopi first came across Sameer as a 15-year old in 2009, when his brother brought him along to the academy and recalls spotting something special in him then, report ESPN India.
Here's what coach Gopi thinks of his new find, as told to ESPN:
"Sameer has the strokes and capabilities. He is a tricky player with some quick short action strokes that makes him very effective. He is somebody who I believe with maturity will get stronger."
As he showed during his run in Hong Kong, Sameer comes as a fearless stroke-maker in the mould of PV Sindhu. Short in stature, and not blessed with a wingspan like Sindhu, Sameer compensates for it lightning quick movement across the court. His jump smash is another strong weapon and he showed he is a high-risk player by going for audacious angles and smashes.
Premier Badminton League
The National Champion was drafted by Hyderabad Hunters for 11.5 lakhs in the recent PBL auction and will play alongside World No. 1 and Olympic Gold medal winner Carolina Marin in the 2nd edition.
What's next for Sameer?
For Sameer, the focus will be to make a name for himself in the PBL and push on for World Championships next year.
"This tournament has helped my confidence and also given me some knowledge on how I can improve as a player at the highest level," Sameer told ESPN after his final in Hong Kong. "Patience and calmness are two important attributes I feel. I have to improve my smashes and attacking game. I don't want to think too much, just enjoy my game and play then I am not very far from that level."
All the same, the country now has another badminton star to root for.