NEW DELHI: Pusarla Venkata Sindhu, the newly crowned World Champion in badminton, says she did not let her repeated defeats in the final matches of different tournaments affect her and kept working hard to make a comeback.
“I never took it to heart. I just kept working hard and came back much stronger. Coming to the finals is also a tough thing. One would lose and one would win. It’s just that you need to give your best all the time and that’s what I did,” Sindhu told The Sunday Guardian in an interview.
At the final match of the World Championship, in Switzerland, on 25 August, Sindhu put up a clinical display of controlled aggression, swiftness and accuracy in a 38-minute-long ferocious onslaught to emerge victorious over Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara, 21-7, 21-7. She was the first Indian gold
medallist at the championship.
With the win, a huge burden has been lifted off her shoulders. Be that as it may, images of not being able to cross the finishing line at the Olympics, Asian Games, two World finals and Commonwealth Games must have flashed past her mind as she approached towards the end of the second set. She was down in the dumps for most of the year. Yet, she remained unflappable and didn’t throw in the towel.
“It feels great to have finally won the championship finals,” the 24-year-old said.
Not to forget the historic 110-minute final against the same opponent at the 2017 World Championship where she ended up on the losing side despite putting up a fight.
“I won’t say revenge, but a sweet revenge maybe,” she quipped when asked if she had finally avenged her 2017 defeat.
It was probably the win against Tai Tzu Ying in the quarter-final after losing the first set that gave her the sniff of victory in the World Championships. Now it can be rightly said that she is a big match player who has the ability to turn the extraordinary into routine. The way she went for her shots, it seemed she wanted a measure of control over the entire match, with agility and intensity.
“She (Okuhara) didn’t have a chance and choice to actually get a point from me in the finals,” the Olympic bronze medallist asserted.
Oozing confidence, the 24-year-old said she had her eyes set on Olympic glory. “The ultimate aim would be Tokyo 2020 and winning the gold. But for that I need to work harder and learn a lot in the process,” she said.
Here are excerpts from the interview:
Q: What was your mindset like when you took the court?
A: I went with the mindset that I needed to give my best and play my hundred per cent. From the start I was very much alert on my feet and was prepared for everything.
Q: If your body language was anything to go by, you seemed very confident. What were you thinking after winning the first set with ease?
A: After I won the first game, I didn’t take it easy even though I won the first set comfortably. You never know what could happen. I was also fully prepared for the second set despite winning the first one with ease.
Q: This was one of the most one-sided and shortest finals we have ever witnessed in terms of points played…
A: Yes, 21-7, 21-7. It was very important for me to be ready for each point and for me each point really mattered. From the start I was dominating all the time and despite a good performance in the beginning I didn’t relax and finished it off.
Q: Do you think your win against Tai Tzu Ying in the quarter-finals was the impetus and boosted your confidence in the finals?
A: Yes, the match gave me a lot of confidence. But I think I just took it one at a time, one match at a time precisely. After winning against Tai Tzu Ying, of course, it was a really good match. A long one and really close. It did give me confidence but playing against Chen Yu Fei in the semi-finals was significant as well. For me, each match was important. I didn’t think about the finals after my win against Tai Tzu. It was just the semi-finals for me at that point of time.
Q: People and critics had started questioning your ability to win big games (finals).Was that disappointing and did that affect you as a player?
A: It wasn’t disappointing but a lot of people started questioning. Losing in the finals…what is happening with you…final phobia, and all that. But I never took it to heart. I just kept working hard and came back much stronger. Coming to the finals is also a tough thing. One would lose and one would win. It’s just that you need to give your best all the time and that was what I did. Despite losing the finals, I have learnt from my mistakes and made a comeback.
Q: What were your coaches, Kim Ji Hyun and Pullela Gopichand, telling you when the match was underway? What advice did they give you before the final game?
A: I am very thankful to both of them. They were telling me what needed to be done for each point. Because strategy wise, no matter how much you change, it depends on that point or that particular point. They were encouraging me all the time even when I was losing points. They were saying: “Never mind, next time.” Everything went well against Okuhara. I was always leading hence they didn’t have much to say. They just asked me not to relax and play till the last point.
Q: In your previous interaction with The Sunday Guardian, you had mentioned how Kim Ji Hyun has been helping you in your game. Do you feel that sometimes to grow as a player and add a different dimension to your game, one needs to look for a different form of guidance?
A: She has been here for a couple of months now. I have been training under her and she made a few changes. We have been working a lot on skills and defence. That really worked out.
Q: How important was Gopichand’s presence?
A: Training under the guidance of Gopi Sir has always been great. Me, Gopi Sir and Kim, we discuss everything together and that’s how we plan our sessions.
Q: The way you played it seemed you have gained a lot of muscle power. You looked fitter, sharper. Are there any changes you have made in your fitness training?
A: Fitness is equally important. Matches nowadays are going on for really long and lengthy rallies are there. That is when your endurance is needed. For smashes and when strength comes into play, it is very much required. There are different aspects like weight training, strength, agility, endurance. All these aspects are equally important.
Q: You chose to attack right from the word go and the points that Okuhara gained were mostly because of your unforced errors. Was this strategy pre-planned?
A: Right from the start, I played with a lot of aggression. I was dominating all the time and my strength is my attack. I was attacking and I think that really helped me a lot. It was planned in the sense that I went with the mindset that I have to give my best. I think I just played my game.
Q: What exactly you think you did right and the mistakes she committed?
A: Like I said, I played my game. I was attacking and was very much dominating. I didn’t give her a chance to attack. Even though she was playing rally, I was taking everything. So wherever she played, I was ready for everything. She didn’t have a chance and choice to actually to get a point from me in the finals.
Q: Two years ago both of you had competed for 110 minutes, the longest final ever played in the history of the tournament. Have you finally avenged your defeat?
A: It was one of the longest matches. Each point went on really long and that was a bit disappointing for me because it was anybody’s game where I lost 22-20 in the third set. Even she did well. We played our best. But again one would win and one should lose. I guess it was her day.
I would not say revenge. We have played a lot against each other. So a sweet revenge maybe, because we have played a lot since then. A few times she won, and I won some games. The competition is always high between us.
Q: How would you compare this win with Rio Olympics? Was this more satisfying?
A: Both are different. World Championships is different, Olympics is different. The atmosphere was different. I would not compare the two of them. Very different memories.
Q: Expectation from you is bound to get a notch higher now. What’s your target? Is an Olympic win on the cards?
A: Expectations are always high and responsibility is always there. The ultimate aim would be Tokyo 2020 and winning the gold. But for that I need to work harder and learn a lot in the process. Before that we have Olympics qualification going on. It’s just step by step and each tournament is very important for me.
Q: What did the Prime Minister and Sports Minister tell you during your meeting in New Delhi?
A: Both the Prime Minister and Sports Minister congratulated me. It felt very encouraging. Their blessings will always be there. When the Prime Minister called me the “pride of the nation”, I felt very happy and definitely it’s a proud moment for me.
Q: You were in tears when the national anthem was played…
A: It was completely different. Standing on the podium and national anthem being played, it was a different feeling. Emotions took over at that point of time. National anthem playing in a different country was a proud moment for me and also for the country. I was very happy with a lot of emotions involved.