Breaking a ‘barrier’

Arvind Bhat’s immediate goal is to break into the top 10 of the world rankings before the end of the year. “Though I am 29 years old, I still have enough fire left in me,” says the National champion in a chat with Kalyan Ashok.

Finally Arvind Bhat kept his date with destiny, winning the men’s singles title in the National Badminton Championship in Indore in his fifth appearance in the title round. The Bharath Petroleum player, a ward of badminton legend Prakash Padukone and U. Vimal Kumar at the Tata Padukone Academy in Bangalore, made his first final at the 2002 Nationals, but finished runner-up to Abhinn Shyam Gupta. He again entered the finals in 2004, 2006 and 2008, but failed to win the title.

An attacking player with good court coverage and uncanny judgement, Bhat’s failure was seen as being due to a ‘mental block’. A late starter in the game, he has made rapid strides since 2002. Bhat also overcame a debilitating ankle injury in 2006 to pull himself ahead with sheer hard work and dedication. He strictly followed the well-planned training regimen set by his coaches at the TPBA.

Bhat rose to a career high ranking of No. 27 in January and 2008 has been a successful season for him. He won most of the domestic events he played in, was a finalist at the Bitburger Grand Prix and reached the quarterfinals of the Hong Open and China Open Super Series.

Now that Bhat has broken a ‘barrier’ by winning his maiden National title, he wishes to concentrate more on international events. And he hopes to break into the top 10 rankings by the end of the year.

In an interview with Sportstar, the new National champion spoke of his career.

Excerpts:

Question: What was the first feeling that swept over you on winning the National title?

Answer: If you expect me to say I was overjoyed, nothing could be farther than that! I was plainly relieved; it was a long time coming. So many times I had been so close but fell at the final hurdle and the most galling was the final I lost to Abhinn Shyam Gupta (2002). I lost from match point. Well, all that has been washed away by this victory.

How will this win impact your performance on the international stage?

Arvind Bhat with his training partner Anup Sridhar (right) and coach Vimal Kumar (left) at the Tata-Padukone Academy in Bangalore.-

It will have a huge impact. We used to go for the European Tour after every Nationals, and each time I lost in the National final, I went with my morale down and it reflected in my performances on the tour. But this time it would be different. I have won a battle against myself and I have a strong self-belief.

What made the difference at the Indore Nationals?

I was cool and composed and played that way, I never got flustered. I was pushed a bit, especially in the quarterfinal against Sachin Ratti but I played my game and everything fell into place.

You were a slow starter in your career but have now made such rapid strides. Any reason for that?

Yes, I began late but it was due to the fact that I was seriously pursuing my academics. I finished my mechanical engineering course with high grades and was qualified professionally but I also managed to squeeze in time for badminton and spent practically every spare minute on my training. The hard work paid off. In a way, my studies helped me on the court also. As an engineer, you are expected to spot the problem and come out with solutions. I used that effectively on court.

There’s a new-found mental toughness in you, what’s the secret?

I have been doing a lot of meditation and I did an NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programme) training under Ashiesh Rao. I added weight, worked hard on my training and all these helped me to have a greater self-belief. I was able to play without putting too much pressure on myself.

Now that you have won the National title, where do you go from here?

My goal is to get into the top 10 before the end of the year. At the international level, I guess there are about five or six players, who are a couple of notches above me and I don’t feel threatened by others. All I need to do is work harder, improve my fitness and take them on. I look forward to doing much better on the European Tour, including the All-England Championship. Though I am 29, I still have enough fire left in me.

Training with Prakash Padukone and Vimal Kumar has brought about dramatic changes in your game, but off court, were there any lessons that you learnt from them?

What I learnt from them on court is immeasurable, but what matters most are the lessons I had learnt from these two great players off court. Prakash speaks less and does more and when he does speak, it makes a lot of sense. Vimal Kumar is one of the most sincere persons I have known. He is committed and passionate about whatever he does. Combine all these qualities and you have a deadly combination.

Among players, you enjoy a special friendship with Anup Sridhar, who also trains with you at the TPBA. Is it good to have an equally talented player as a training partner?

When Prakash Padukone trained with Morten Frost, many said Frost benefited from him but Prakash sir always used to say ‘both of us gained’. I would say the same thing about Anup. It is good to have someone who is equal, if not better than you, on court every day. Anup has been a great motivator. When I am with him, I am compelled to do better than him. Though we are great friends, on court we don’t give anything away to each other.

How do you view the future of Indian badminton?

Very bright. There are more Indians in the top 50 than ever before and that is a good sign. As I see it, at least three players will emerge in the top 20 in a few years. Besides the top three (myself, Anup and Chetan) there are a whole lot of youngsters like P. Kashyap, my rival in the National final for instance, who are hungry for success and have the ability to raise the level of their game to beat us.

You recently married your long time sweetheart, Pallavi, a former West Bengal player. Has marriage changed your luck and has she contributed to your success?

Yes, luck has changed (laughs). I feel a lot more relaxed after marriage. It has been just a few months now and maybe later she can provide her inputs to improve my game. I dedicate my victory to Pallavi, my parents, coaches and the support staff at Padukone Academy.