PV Sindhu: ‘I have a long way to go’

Having achieved her goal of winning an Olympic medal, P. V. Sindhu says that she is not the one to rest on her laurels.

"I just forgot my final loss and kept thanking my destiny for the silver," P. V. Sindhu says.   -  NAGARA GOPAL

Pusarla Venkata Sindhu’s transformation is complete. From the time she showed glimpses of her talent by winning her first State-level under-10 title to the silver medal in the Rio Olympics recently, Sindhu has come a long way. She has grown in stature too.

READ: >Exclusive Gopichand interview

The 21-year-old badminton star, the first Indian woman to win a silver medal at the Olympics, spoke to Sportstar on arrival from Rio.

ALSO READ: >Singing paeans to Sindhu

Excerpts:

Question: You are the toast of the nation after winning the silver medal at Rio 2016. How has your journey been in the world of badminton?

Answer: When I started playing badminton, I never dreamt of playing in the Olympics. The effort and focus then was on becoming a good player who can win titles at the national level. But after I joined the Gopichand Academy eight years ago, I started looking at things differently. Slowly my goals started changing with every passing month. I am glad that I am in the best academy and under the best coach, Gopi Sir. I am fortunate to have someone like him as my coach.

Gopichand was on record that he had a hunch that you might win an Olympic medal this time. Did you ever feel that Rio was the best chance for you to win a medal?

When I reached Rio, my aim was to take one match at a time, which is my normal approach to any event — be it the Nationals, the Super Series or the World Championships. The important thing here was that the preparations were very good before we left for Rio. There were many areas that Gopi Sir worked on, with valuable inputs from our physio Kiran and the SAI athletics coach, Ramesh Sir. I knew the draw was very tough, but I always had the feeling that nothing was impossible if I stay focussed and played to my full potential.

Did you, at any moment, have any inkling that this is going to be your Olympics?

We looked at it differently. We just focussed on the day’s match and did not think too much. Yes, the confidence grew with each match and the big wins over Tai Tzu and Wang Yihan were huge morale-boosters. Up against Carolina Marin, we all knew that my game had to be a notch higher. Yes, we must acknowledge that she played better that day. She is a great player, a two-time World champion. I had my chances but missed out, especially in the second and third games because of a few unforced errors.

Do you regret having missed the gold medal after coming so close to winning it?

I don’t take it that way. True, gold would have been a huge thing as it is every athlete’s dream at the Olympics. But at the end of it all, as Gopi Sir pointed out, I just forgot that loss and kept thanking my destiny for the silver, which, I believe, is a huge achievement in my maiden Olympics.

  Gopi makes it a point to keep reminding everyone that Sindhu is a big-match player capable of beating anyone on her day. Critics, however, point to your inexplicable defeats to lesser-rated players after beating the best. How different was your approach in Rio?

Again, there was a lot of planning during training sessions. I feel that I played the best game of my career during that week in Rio. Everything fell in place — smashes, the defence and the drop shots. This was the result of hours of hard work during training. Gopi Sir ensured that I stayed away from all sorts of distractions.

Was it difficult for you to keep off things like the mobile phone or the iPad?

Sometimes yes. But when you have set a big goal, like winning an Olympic medal, you have to be prepared for these kinds of small sacrifices (flashes a broad smile). I didn’t have any issue with this and I am glad — I repeat — I had a coach who was so committed to ensuring my success on the biggest stage. For instance, now I have already had enough chocolates and ice creams after coming home (smiles again). I was not allowed to have them for close to three months in the run-up to the Olympics.

You must now be having plenty of requests for interviews, and some might want to felicitate you. People would also be lining up for so many other things… How difficult is it for you to handle these things?

Right now, I am enjoying every moment of my success in Rio. I have absolutely no complaints. Not many athletes have this kind of privilege. The love and affection being showered on me from across the country is amazing.

Before your final, Sakshi Malik was the lone medal winner from India in Rio. Did you ever feel that you have to win a medal to redeem India’s prestige?

We all watched Sakshi fighting back after being 0-5 down to clinch the bronze. It was inspiring to see her win the medal, but again there was a conscious effort not to invite pressure by thinking too much about winning a medal. Fortunately, by the grace of God, I went on to win silver and I am immensely pleased with this.

Having tasted success at the highest level, what do you think would be the greatest challenges you could face in the days to come?

If I keep things simple, stay focussed and take every tournament scheduled from next month onwards match by match — as I have been doing for long — I don’t think my approach is going to be different in any way. No athlete can rest on his or her laurels, and I am no different. The efforts will be there to keep improving. As we face new challenges, we will work accordingly for better results. The most important thing is to be injury-free, and one of my goals is to become the World No. 1.

Despite the Olympics silver medal, do you think there are still some grey areas in your game that you need to work on?

As they say, learning is a continuous process. You have to keep evolving with the changing times. I have to be prepared to take on different opponents with different styles and strategies, as I did in Rio. With a wonderful support system in place at Gopi Sir’s academy, I am confident things will improve in my case, as I have a long way to go in the world of badminton.

With the exception of Chen Long, the Chinese were a big disappointment in the Rio Olympics. Is their influence waning? Or is it because players from others nations have started improving rapidly?

No one can rule out any Chinese player at any level. Yes, they did not do well at Rio 2016. This can also be a reminder of the fact that players from other countries are not too far behind. In a way, this is good for the sport too.

  What about your parents (P. V. Ramana and P. Vijaya, both former India volleyball players)?

I think they have proved once again, with their unstinted support, that for any athlete to make it big, the first support system is at home. Unless parents wholeheartedly extend their fullest co-operation, it is extremely difficult to make it big in sports. I am fortunately blessed with such parents. Their caring and understanding of what it takes to make a champion, and the readiness to make so many sacrifices is truly remarkable. It helped me reach this stage.

It is inevitable now that you will be compared with Saina Nehwal. What is your take?

Oh! She has achieved so much. I admire her fighting spirit, as she never gives any easy points. Since she trains at a different place, we tend to meet only during tournaments. There also, but for exchanging pleasantries and casual enquiries about the players we are likely to meet, there is no time for long, serious talks. Both of us have our priorities and goals to achieve. Otherwise, the rest is all speculation.

How would you describe the general scenario of badminton in India?

The future really looks good with plenty of talent and so many academies coming up. The onus is on the youngsters to make optimum use of the existing facilities. Like Gopi Sir said, my success should inspire many young talent to dream big and work really hard to achieve their goals.

Following the silver medal, do you think life will change dramatically for you?

Oh! I would be recognised more now across the country, as I came to know millions watched my matches in Rio on TV. I am mature enough to handle the success with ease. I know it is imperative to be simple even as I enjoy all the accolades pouring in from all over the country. I am grateful to God for whatever I am today — and to my coach and my parents too.

Coming from a disciplined family and mentored by a coach, who himself is a role model, it shouldn’t be difficult for me to have my feet firmly on the ground even while setting new goals and pursuing them with vigour.

Finally, do you have any message for your admirers and budding players?

Nothing is impossible in sport, or for that matter in any field, if we put in the hard work. There should not be any inhibitions once you set goals for yourself. Come what may, stay focussed and one day you will be there.

(As appeared in sportstar.thehindu.com on August 31, 2016)

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