'Saina wanted to umpire our match', says Sameer Verma after winning against brother at India Open
After handing his elder brother a defeat in a 'familial' clash, Sameer Verma talks to The Bridge about coming back after injury and playing amidst rising COVID cases.
To play badminton or to panic about omicron - that is the nagging question on every other player's mind at the ongoing Yonex-Sunrise India Open 2022. For former World No. 11 shuttler Sameer Verma, his voice tingling with nervous laughter, it's the same ominous thought as he sits in his hotel in the capital buzzing with COVID cases.
Settling in for a light-hearted chat with The Bridge, a little after all but vanquishing his elder brother, Sourabh Verma, in just 15 minutes (21-7, 21-7) in the first round of the India Open at the KD Jadhav Indoor Hall, Sameer was cheerfully candid.
"The mood of Delhi is largely fearful..except for this room, every other place seems very dangerous to me," the 27-year-old from Dhar, Madhya Pradesh confesses, the panic bit of the situation mostly worrying him out after he wrapped business on-court with his brother, without even breaking into a sweat.
The bro factor - Sameer Verma and Sourabh Verma
The draw of the India Open was a curiously funny one for the Verma brothers - Sameer and Sourabh, as they had to go up against each other on Day 1 itself.
Breaking into a laugh when asked how fellow Indian badminton players at the event reacted to this draw, the sixth-seeded Sameer revealed, "Everybody here was saying - 'Why are you guys going so far? Play here (at the hotel) only, no!'," he said with a chuckle.
"Saina Nehwal and everyone was saying that we'll play umpires, you guys play here," Sameer shared, clearly amused by the kind of conversation that happened before the brothers fought it out at the KD Jadhav Indoor Hall.
"I am not 100% fit still, I have a few niggles but I'm taking it one by one. I haven't planned too far ahead - I'm still taking it one day, one match at a time," the World No. 25 ace shuttler says.
However, up against his brother, Sourabh, 29, his most familiar (and familial) opponent, Sameer moved in great form - clinically disposing off him in straight games with a mirror score of 21-7, 21-7.
So, are things different because of the 'bhai' factor for Sameer?
"The competitive feeling is a little less whenever I have a match against Sourabh, I've grown up with him - even if I lose, I'll only be losing to my brother, so it's still okay," Sameer confesses again. "Against any other actual, normal opponent, that feeling is different where I just have to win - that feeling is very different," Sameer resolves.
In fact, it was because of Sourabh, whose rallying skills Sameer really admires, that he initially picked up the sport and it's safe to say that by now, they know the game of the other all too well.
"During lockdown in 2020, we would play and practice together. We wouldn't play matches together but I was so glad he was there so we had each other to play with, at least," Sameer admitted, forever grateful for his elder sibling and his skills with the racquet.
Badminton in the times of corona
For Sameer, who had to skip the Indonesian leg of the BWF tour in November-December owing to injuries, the India Open 2022 is his first tournament of the year and the 2022 season and the playing situation amidst COVID-19 times has only worsened now.
"In Europe, we were getting tested twice a week, over here it is happening every day and I think it is the right decision - COVID-19 is peaking in Delhi now and it is very scary out there," Sameer mentions, his voice filled with apprehension.
"Everybody who is staying here is also conscious to not step out and break the bubble, all safety protocols are being followed," Sameer mentions, lauding the organizers for doing their best to protect the bubble and carry out the tournament despite the conditions being so risky.
In fact, New Delhi has become the COVID-capital of the country currently as it recorded 21,259 new cases today and the positivity rate has also hiked up to an alarming 25.65% - making it sound like an infection that is floating in the air of New Delhi.
"I saw the news today and it seems like this is the week where COVID-19 is peaking here. Everything is so uncertain," Sameer echoes the worries in his head.
With his Round 2 match slated for Thursday, Sameer, who has stopped planning for the future, mentions candidly again, "I have only planned till the India Open - I haven't looked ahead at the 2022 calendar because everything is so uncertain here. I just want to stay as injury-free as possible for the year ahead," he convincingly explained.
"People are testing positive too for the antigen and few players withdrew even yesterday. I was afraid till even after arriving that the India Open might get cancelled but the way BAI and everybody is hosting it - making us test every day, it is good," Sameer clarified, the panic ever-present in his mind but the will the go out there and play far stronger, as he signed off with another nervous laughter that we can only very well relate to.