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Latheesh Bharath is happy to have reached his target one year in advance after becoming the WBF Junior World No 1. Image Credit: A.K.S. Satish/Gulf News

Dubai: UAE’s young badminton sensation Latheesh Bharath has been flying high after moving to the No 1 spot in the world junior rankings.

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But the success hasn’t distracted the 16-year-old, who continues to remain focused and is showing maturity beyond his age. From here citing no rush he wants to take it one step at a time.

“Actually, this result [world No 1 position] is not expected this year. We were focusing on reaching the top next year. I am happy that my hard work and support from coach and parents has helped me reach the top,” Bharath told Gulf News.

Short-term and long-term goals

Bharath has been No 1 for the last five weeks after his recent victories at the Italian Junior 2024, 14th Hungarian Junior Championships 2024 and the Bulgarian Junior Open Championship 2023 but the only regret will be that the DPS Dubai student had to skip his Class X Board exams, due to his busy schedule.

“I do have short-term and long-term goals. This year, I want to focus on getting good results in Asian Junior Championship and World Championship. And, hopefully, grade up to the senior level by next year and aim to qualify for the 2028 LA Games. My dream is to win an Olympic gold,” Bharath says.

Bharath holding the UAE flag on the podium after winning the Italian Junior 2024. Image Credit: Supplied

In January 2023, the UAE Badminton Federation decided to allow resident players to represent the UAE in international tournaments as per international regulations. A group of junior players from the UAE participated in several tournaments across the globe, achieving accolades, winning many of them. Within a year, the UAE players were in the top three positions in four out of the five events (Men’s Singles, Men’s Doubles, Women’s Doubles, and Mixed Doubles) in the BWF Junior Ranking.

Exposure to the grand stage

Bharath grabbed the headlines last year when in his first exposure on the grand stage, the UAE resident pushed then world No 4 Lee Zii Jia before losing in two sets during the Badminton Asia Mixed Team Championships in Dubai in 2023.

The Dubai resident, in fact, held a slender lead in the second game before the Malaysian raced to a 21-12, 21-15 win. Bharath might have lost that match, but the learning have held him in good stead. Bharath feels that opportunity provided the stepping stone for him to climb to the top.

“It is a matter of pride for the badminton fraternity as Bharath joins the elite league of Junior World No 1s from the UAE, previously held by Dev and Dhiren Ayyappan in men’s doubles, Taabia Khan in women’s doubles and mixed Doubles for shorter periods,” Noura Al Jasmi, President, UAE Badminton Federation said in a statement. “We are committed to providing the best environment for the players of the UAE to excel in badminton, and we look forward to seeing UAE players competing in the Olympics.”

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Latheesh Bharath on route to winning one of the events in recent times. Image Credit: Supplied

After the loss in the first round, Bharath had told Gulf News: “I train in a small court and it’s the first time I am playing in such a big court. It was a dream come true. This was my first international competition and I am going back with a lot of learning experience. I will have to train more, probably 10 times more than I have been working now.”

Connecting the dots

On an average he trains around six hours daily to improve his fitness and skills. In a bid to be ready for the challenges from top badminton nations like China, Japan, Korea, Indonesia and India, Bharath, with the support of equipment sponsor Yonex, and Berkeley Services, has hired Indonesian Vicki Okvana to help him learn the nuances of the game.

“In the last few months I have seen a lot of changes. I had many weak points and slowly everything is connecting now. He has a different training programme and his feeding is also different,” he added.

Jaffer Ebrahim, BWF’s Dubai Badminton Development Manager, is confident of Bharath reaching greater heights and more importantly performances like these will spur more youth to take up badminton. “We are immensely proud of Bharath’s achievement as the world junior No 1. With dedicated support and focused training, we’re confident in his ability to qualify and excel at the LA 2028 Olympics,” Ebrahim added.