Meet the Dubai girl who has become world number two in badminton

10 members of Taabia Khan's family, including her father, played cricket in India. But she has become her family's trendsetter in badminton


Rituraj Borkakoty

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Taabia Khan has made great progress since she began to play the sport at the age of 10. — Supplied photos
Taabia Khan has made great progress since she began to play the sport at the age of 10. — Supplied photos

Published: Tue 9 Jan 2024, 1:16 PM

When Omer Khan landed here in the UAE more than two decades ago, cricket was his ticket to a new life.

A former national-level cricketer in India, Khan got his first job in the shipping industry on the back of his versatile skills as a left-handed opening batsman and a right-arm off-spinner.

The company hired him to play for their cricket team in UAE’s A Division club matches and also offered him a ‘small’ job.

Khan continued to play cricket for a few years in Dubai before quitting the sport to focus completely on his work.

But hailing from a cricketing family in Madhya Pradesh where nine of his relatives also played for their state team in India’s national-level championships, Khan was elated when his elder daughter, Taabia Khan, showed an interest in the sport.

Taabia’s ability as a right-handed batter when she was only nine convinced Khan to make her the new cricket torchbearer of the family.

He even took her to Dubai’s ICC Cricket Academy to get her trained under the best coaches.

But something dramatic happened soon after that.

“When Taabia saw her mother (Filaa Khan) play badminton with her friends for fun, she started showing a serious interest in the sport,” Khan recalled.

Taabia’s attention was completely diverted from the game of bat and ball as she was beginning to be fascinated by the racquet sport.

Eight years later, Taabia has made fascinating progress as a shuttler.

This 17-year-old Dubai girl is now the world number two in mixed doubles in the BWF (Badminton World Federation) Junior World Rankings.

Hat-trick of titles

Taabia, who started to play badminton at the age of 10, won three back-to-back international titles in Uganda, Spain and Cyprus.

“It feels really good to be winning these tournaments and getting to the number two spot in world junior rankings,” the young shuttler, who is now also world number 10 in girls doubles, tells the Khaleej Times.

“I think the hard work that I have put in since the start has paid off now. I am making my coaches, and my parents proud, so I am very happy.”

The grade 12 student at the Indian Academy School in Dubai spends seven hours a day on the practice courts at the Battledore Sports Academy under the watchful eyes of Alfaz Kalam, the head coach.

“A lot of people have asked me if would move to India for training. But I prefer training in Dubai. The atmosphere here is very good, the coaches and facilities here are top-class now,” she says.

New opportunity for expats

Last year, the UAE Badminton Federation opened the door to expats to represent the UAE in international events.

It was a step that allowed talented young players like Taabia to wear the UAE colours at the Asian Badminton Championships in Dubai last year.

“The UAE Badminton Federation is helping us a lot. We played the senior Asian championships, which gave us great exposure to play against some of the best players in the world,” she says.

“I played against the Malaysian doubles team of Thinaah Muralitharan and Pearly Tan. It was a big moment for me because they have always been my idols. I had only watched them play on TV, facing them on the court was a different experience.”

Taabia with one of her idols, Thinaah Muralitharan
Taabia with one of her idols, Thinaah Muralitharan

Sports background

Taabia says she feels blessed to have a father who comes from a cricket family.

“He understands the psychology of an athlete. He puts me at ease when I come back home after losing a match,” says Taabia who will gradually move into the seniors this year.

“He always says things to motivate me. He says ‘Even if you lose, it’s fine if you have given your 100 per cent’.

“That’s a win for me. That gives me the greatest motivation to work hard after I lose a match.”

Taabia (centre) with her head coach Alfaz Kalam (right)
Taabia (centre) with her head coach Alfaz Kalam (right)

Omer, whose younger daughter, Mysha Omer Khan, is already showing great promise in badminton, partnering Taabia in doubles and rising to the number one ranking in under 17 and under 19 singles in the UAE, reveals his family back home in India were not happy initially with his daughters’ love for badminton.

“We come from a big joint family. Obviously, having played cricket at a very high level, they wanted my daughters to follow in their footsteps,” says Omer whose sister, Humera Khan, also played cricket in the UAE.

“But I spoke to them and convinced them that my daughters have made the right choice. Thankfully, the results are coming now.”

Khan is completely invested now in his two daughters’ badminton aspirations.

Taabia with her father Omer, mother Filaa, sister Mysha and brother Touqeer
Taabia with her father Omer, mother Filaa, sister Mysha and brother Touqeer

“We haven’t gone on a vacation for many years. We only travel abroad now for their badminton tournaments,” he says.

“We want to give them the best chance of fulfilling their dreams. I hope to see them become world number one in seniors.”

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