A LIFE OFF THE COURT

K. MURALIKUMAR

For Aparna Popat, who won her ninth National Championship in Bangalore recently, there is more to life than badminton, Kalyan Ashok finds out.

On Cloud Nine. That summed up Aparna Popat's mood after winning the National title for the ninth time. She spoke to Sportstar before leaving for Tirupathi on a thanksgiving trip. Joy and relief were writ all over her face as she recounted her other interests in life besides badminton. There is more to life than badminton for the 27-year-old star.

What does this success mean to you and how special was it to win the ninth title?

It meant a lot to me, because it was one of the toughest Nationals that I had played in recent years, for I lacked match practice. Training hard is one thing and playing matches is another. It does make a difference when you go into a championship, when you have not played enough tournaments before the event. With each match, I improved and improvised and got better and better. In the final, I was under pressure all right, but I was also confident. As regards the other question, this one was as special as all others (National titles). Every time you win a National, it gives you that special feeling.

Which would you recall as the best moment of your career?

Winning the silver medal in the Junior World Championship in 1996 was the happiest moment of my life. It still remains my all time best. I went into the tournament as a rank outsider and had such a great run. I was 17 then and that made it all the more memorable.

What was your worst moment?

The three-month ban imposed by IBF in 2000. During the Uber Cup match, I had severe sinus and I had no other option but to take medication. I took D-Cold Total, which had a chemical that was on the banned list of the IBF. I was not aware of it till I was singled out in a random check. It was a shattering experience. I was in good form and my World ranking was in the top 20s, when the ban was imposed. Everything came crashing down, my ranking, form and my confidence. Thank God, I kept my faith and came out of that dark phase of my life.

Apart from badminton, what is your other preferred sport?

I love watching tennis. It's a great game with a lot of emotion and action and each player makes a personal statement with his or her style.

Who is your idol in other sports?

It has to be Steffi Graf. I like her poise, style and commitment to the game. She and Agassi make a great pair.

What do you love in life?

I love a lot of things. Best of all is chocolates. I simply can't resist them, but it's tough given my diet.

What do you like in people?

I like people who are sincere in their words and actions and who make no bones of what they feel and mean what they say.

What do you dislike?

I hate dishonesty. People talking behind your back, but acting very sincere in front of you.

Do you believe in any superstition?

None. Your success or lack of it depends on your own ability and one cannot hang it on a peg of superstition.

What's your favourite holiday destination?

Khandala. It's so quiet, so serene and great climate.

Your all time favourite film?

Pretty Woman. I have watched it so many times, Julia Roberts wasn't just pretty, she was stunning in looks and in acting.

Who is your favourite singer?

I dig country music and Neil Diamond is my favourite. Nothing like a Diamond playing on your car stereo while driving home.

Your one big wish?

Whatever I do, I wish to be the best and reach for the stars.

ANUP SRIDHAR'S ENCORE

K. MURALIKUMAR

Anup Sridhar's first triumph at the senior Nationals in Jamshedpur in 2005 might have surprised a few, but not many eyebrows were raised when he successfully defended the title with a 15-12, 15-4 victory over fellow PSPB team-mate from Bangalore, Aravind Bhat.

Anup, 22, after his recent stint with Skaelskor Badminton Club, Copenhagen, where he had ample opportunity to play club matches and a few European Open events, looked a better player. The one big change that was visible in the six-feet three-inch tall champion was his temperament. He is far more focussed, a lot more agile and showed staying power. He had a game plan for each of his rivals and executed them to perfection. For instance, in the final he cleverly blunted Bhat's attack. Bhat's smashes proved too hot for his rivals in the championship. But Anup, who retrieved doggedly and defended adroitly, took the sting out of Aravind's attack.

Once his attacking play began to flounder, Bhat struggled and Anup began chipping away with some quicksilver flicks and a string of half smashes.

"This was a tougher final than in Jamshedpur, but I played consistently in the tournament to win," said Anup. The champion also admitted that he had become mentally tougher after his stint in Denmark. "The intensity of training and the fact that I had to be on my own for doing everything out there, helped me," he said.