Saloni Mehta has plans to become Hong Kong’s first international badminton superstar.
“I’ve got my sights set on big things,” says the 15-year-old. “My ultimate dream is to go to the Olympics, but I know I need to work much harder for that to happen.”
Saloni recently swapped her Indian passport for a Hong Kong one so she can represent the city in international competitions.
“I know I have a lot more work to do, and I have to start winning more competitions, but I’ve been training really hard and I believe I can make it happen.”
The King George V School student gave an impressive performance at the Hong Kong All-District Competition. In fact she didn’t lose a single game.
“It was a big confidence boost, as I was beating players who were much older than me and who I didn’t think I could beat.”
As the second-highest-ranked player in Hong Kong for her age group, she was selected to participate in the Asian Junior Championships in 2017.
“That was one of my proudest accomplishments. I just came short last year, so I was really happy to even get to go to the competition,” she says. “Then, when I played, I went up against one of the top-ranked players in the world, and everyone told me I was going to lose badly. But I ended up getting 19 points, and it just showed me that I can compete with the best in the world.”
Saloni trains 28 hours a week at the Hong Kong Sports Institute while balancing her GCSE studies at KGV.
“It’s hard, but luckily my school has allowed me to study under an elite athlete programme where I get a little bit of extra time to work on certain subjects. Both my school and the HKSI have been very supportive of my career.”
But it wasn’t always smooth sailing for Saloni, who got off to a late start compared to most competitive players.
“Before I was eight, I knew nothing about the sport,” she says. “But my cousin introduced me to it and told my mum that I had a lot of potential, so I started taking lessons and quickly fell in love with the game.”
Her favourite part of the game is its fierce, competitive nature, “especially in Hong Kong where the standard of badminton is so high.
“I actually enjoy playing against someone who is much better than me,” she says. “I just take it as a challenge to see how many points I can get, and sometimes, this results in me winning or getting way more points than I expected.”
Saloni did not always have this mentality, however, and she believes taking a step up in her mental game is what turned her from a good player into one of Hong Kong’s best in her age group.
“I’ve always been tall, lanky and fast [on my feet], which gave me an edge over my opponents,” she says. “But I used to give up too easily. If things weren’t going my way, I would lose hope and worry too much and lose faith in myself.”
It’s because of this that she took an interest in sports psychology. “Although I don’t want to go to university until I finish my badminton career, which should hopefully last for a long time, if I do go it will be to study sports psychology. I find it so fascinating.”
Her advice to young badminton players and athletes is to just forget about the past.
“Tomorrow will be different from today, which was different from yesterday,” she says.
“Don’t let past failures hold you back – let it go, and do what you can to change your future.”