Para shuttler Pramod Bhagat, gold medallist in the last edition of Para Asian Games, and Sukant Kadam, team event bronze medallist, are determined to script ‘golden’ moments in the coming Para Asian Games.
In a chat with Sportstar, the champion duo of shuttlers shared their thoughts.
Q: How different are these Asian Games for you?
PRAMOD: These Asian Games are very important because it is a litmus test for us with the Paralympics just around the corner next year. Asian Games are always tough as the best talent in Asia competes, and this is important for me as I won gold at the last Asian Games, and would like to retain my gold medal.
I had a very good Asian Games trial and have been training hard and staying in a positive state of mind about the games. The Asian Games will be the first step towards preparing and qualifying for the Paris Paralympics.
SUKANT: This is my second Asian Games, and it is very important for me. The category that I play in SL4 is very competitive and 3 of the top 5 in the world are Indians so the competition is higher for me. It’s an opportunity to compete at a high level and showcase my skills.
Asian games bring together some of the best para-badminton athletes from Asia, making the competition intense and challenging. Representing India on such a platform is a big honour for me. It is also a good way to solidify my French Paralympics qualifications with a good performance.
Q: What is the biggest challenge in this edition?
PRAMOD: I always considered myself as the biggest challenge, it is very important I stay in the right frame of mind and train hard. Having said that, I am also watching the new emerging players closely and studying their game which will help me develop strategies against them.
Also, a big challenge is to stay physically fit as I am playing all 3 categories, singles, doubles and mixed doubles. I have been playing that way since a long time but being Asian games, I hope I am able to give the same energy for all 3.
SUKANT: The challenge is to play at the same level of intensity and hunger in all the matches. India has some great players in Para-Badminton and most of my toughest challenges will come from my Indian counterparts and I am geared up to the challenge.
Q: How have been the preparations, could they have been better?
PRAMOD: I am pretty happy with the way preparations are going. I have been working really hard on not only shot improvements but also have added a lot of physical as well as mental training into my routine. I have been training on increasing my speed and also some of my shots.
My coach Das sir and I have been working on certain strategies and game plan and the focus will be implementing those while playing in the tournament.
SUKANT: We have been working hard on improvements. This year has been a lot of ups and downs so working on consistency is a key for me. I have been either having flawless games or making silly mistakes so right now my focus is working on eradicating mistakes. I have also been working hard on the physical aspect of the game.
Q: What do you believe are your strong points and areas of focus in the run-up to Asia?
PRAMOD: My strongest point is I don’t take things very seriously, I like to stay as calm and composed as possible and I always try and enjoy my game.
I have been focusing on honing my technical skills and since I have been on the circuit for almost a decade and more now, I would like to believe I have a slight advantage over the others but at the same time I am not overconfident also. The focus area is understanding how the players are playing and designing specific strategies for each player.
SUKANT: My strong points are taking the game to the opponent and being aggressive. This sometimes becomes a double-edged sword which sometimes bites me back, so the focus is to make sure it doesn’t hurt me very much and try to work out strategies for implementing these game plan.
Q: What are the medal prospects? Who will be the major threat to your campaign?
PRAMOD: My aim is to retain my gold medal and make India proud, I would also like to win gold in men’s doubles and mixed doubles. Having said that, there are some really good players like India’s Nitesh Kumar, Manoj Sarkar, and Japan’s Daisuke Fujihara. There has been some new younger crop that have been doing well in the circuit.
SUKANT: The outcome of sports events can be affected by various factors. Having said that I am going in with the thought of giving my best and leaving 200% on the court, the medal prospects look much brighter in Men’s doubles where I partner Pramod Bhagat, We are currently world No 1 and have won the last few tournaments. It is very important that I stick to my game plan if I need to get a good result in the tournament.
Q: What is special about Asian Games compared to other events in terms of atmosphere, competition and playing conditions?
PRAMOD: After the Olympics/ Paralympics, the Asian Games is the biggest tournament in the world, the atmosphere is surreal. This is going to be my 4th Asian Games and I am very excited about it. Till now I have won 1 gold and 2 bronze in Asian Games and I would like to add to my tally.
Playing conditions are different in different locations, we don’t often go to China to play so we are a little unsure about the conditions. Also Asian Games has the entire Indian contingent and it is so nice to spend time with all the athletes and go and watch other games and cheer for Indian athletes and watch other sports.
SUKANT: The biggest positive is that we will be part of the entire Indian contingent which otherwise never happens. We also get to meet all the sportspeople from other countries and go and see all different kinds of sports which otherwise we might not have time for. This itself motivates us players to perform harder.
Q: Feeling any pressure by way of expectations or any other reason? What are your realistic targets?
PRAMOD: When you represent India there is always pressure and with a great Tokyo Paralympic performance there Is added pressure, but I don’t like to focus on that. My aim is to retain my singles gold and improve my standing in mixed doubles and men’s doubles.
SUKANT: There is always pressure when we represent the country, but my focus will be to make sure I stick to the plans and strategies that we have developed and implement those in the best manner which will help me win medals and make India proud.
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