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NEW DELHI: Chasing perfection, PV Sindhu tells you matter-of-factly, is a never-ending pursuit. What happens along the way, be it winning a silver medal at the Badminton World Championships, a record-setting third Korea Open Super Series, rising to No 2 in the BWF women’s singles rankings or crashing out in the league stage of an event, is all part of that pursuit.
This year, Sindhu has to her credit the aforementioned silver medal at the World Championships, her first India Open and the Korea Open, making her first Indian to win that event three times. In between such glittering success, she made it to the quarters of the Australia Open Super Series and the semi-final of the French Open, and last month rose to a career-high No 2.
A day after she finished runner-up to Saina Nehwal at the end of a gruelling, energy-sapping final of the 82nd national badminton championship, Sindhu spoke to TOI Sports.
Was it tough to motivate yourself for the nationals after a year full of Super Series and the World Championships?
No, because this year the top players were all participating. It is still an important tournament. It was tough, I played my natural game and did not think that it was any less of an event. Once I reached the final, I knew it was going to be tough because of Saina, so I went into it expecting to play hard. It was a good match, though I would have liked to have won. That’s part of sport.
Women’s badminton has become so competitive. I think the top 20 players have more or less been equal. No two players are the same because each one has a different style and different range of strokes. On a given day, different strategies will work for each person. The key is not being overconfident. You should not think that because I’m a top-ranked player I will win this game. You have to be focused.
Carolina Marin in the final of the Olympics, two epic encounters with Nozomi Okuhara – 110 minutes in the World Championships final and 84 minutes in the Korea Open final – and now yesterday’s final in Nagpur which lasted 54 minutes across two intense games … you’re making a pattern of playing some gruelling matches.
Badminton has been improving, it’s become a lot tougher with so many strong players, especially in women’s badminton, if you see, there have been a lot of long matches lasting three games. The World Championship final was one of the most intense matches I’ve played, so many long rallies. When you practice, you focus on all sorts of strokes and rallies but you cannot reproduce such long matches in training. Fitness is the key. You need to have strokes and stamina and agility, you need to exercise really well. On court and off court are equally important.
Do you now, over two months later, think back to Glasgow and realise that you were two points away from becoming world champion?
Yeah, I think about it a lot. But I don’t regret it. It was one of the longest and best matches. An hour and 50 minutes is not at all easy. You take it to 20-20 and each point becomes more critical than the last. It was extremely difficult for both of us … a rally of 73 strokes … but at the end of the day she [Okuhara] did really well and only one person can win. It wasn’t my day, but there are no regrets that I did not play this stroke or that one. I feel like I could have won, of course. But it wasn’t my day.
In two earlier World Championships you reached the last four, but won bronze. Was the hunger stronger after an Olympic medal?
That was one of the things, yes. I also thought that two bronzes were okay, but I had to change the colour of the medal this year. I wanted to win gold and went all-out. After the Olympics, everything totally changed, especially my confidence levels. Winning in Rio really mattered to my game.
But for me, every tournament is the same. Coming to the draw, you never know … you may play a top-ranked player, you may not. But you want to play top-ranked players. There may be a difference between a Super Series and the World Championships, but my preparation remains the same. I want to play my best and I want to win. It is never the case that I will push myself more for the World Championships and play differently in a Super Series, or vice-versa.
Just staying on the topic of that final in Glasgow – those rallies of 73 and 56 strokes make for one of the abiding memories of the year. What do you feel when people term your match with Okuhara as one of the greatest of all time?
I really feel happy. The Olympics are different, the World Championships are different, each Super Series is different. Each event has its own challenges and brings different results and emotions. Different players, different atmosphere and a different way of playing, even, for us. When people say I’ve played one of the best matches, it makes me motivated to do more. It’s encouraging.
Do you feel the burden of expectations after winning an Olympic silver?
We all have goals. When you set goals, it is not easy to just follow them and show up at an event. A lot of hard work goes into following up on your goals. You need to sacrifice so many things. That said, it has never been a burden for me. I have achieved a lot, but for me this is just the start. There’s a lot more to come, a lot more to achieve. Every sportsperson’s dream would be to win a medal at the Olympics, but I never expected to make the final. It was my first Olympics, so I just wanted to play my game and do my best in each match. I really never expected a medal. Since I won, my life changed. The responsibilities increased, the expectations are much more from me wherever I go. People expect Sindhu to win every tournament, which is not possible. Some days you will play excellently, some days you won’t. Some days you will give 100%, some days you won’t. Sometimes you are not lucky enough. There are ups and downs and every day is a new start.
Are there moments of self doubt?
Not really. When you lose, you feel bad and get nervous about what’s happening. But you also learn from your mistakes, so it’s not like you just lose and think ‘what next?’. It’s the ability to come out from those losses and mistakes that makes you stronger.
You’re 22 and you’ve said that there’s so much more to come. How do you assess your game?
One of my strong points is that because I’m tall, I get very good reach. My court coverage is very good. But being tall, since players have seen my games over the years and can plan against me, they don’t give me many chances to attack. They try to make me bend a lot, because I’m tall. That is tough. There are advantages and disadvantages to being tall, which I am constantly working at. I need to focus on every possible stroke. Chasing perfection is a never-ending process.
You are No 2 in the women’s game. Is No 1 a focus point?
Everyone would want to become No 1 in the world, and being second right now I too want to become No 1. But the rankings don’t matter when I train or play. If you play big tournaments and do well, you will move up the rankings and become No 1. I cannot focus on the rankings and think that I need to win this tournament or that to become No 1. I need to focus on my matches and make sure I win.
With so many Indian shuttlers in the top 20 of the men’s and women’s singles ratings, is this the golden age of Indian badminton?
Yes, Indian badminton is doing really well. Men’s and women’s, we have several players in the top 15. And you will definitely see many more coming up in the years to come.