It’s about self-belief

'I always knew that I could beat some of those top guns, but doing that was difficult and somehow the chances slipped out of my hands in the past. But this time, I made sure that I stayed focussed and converted my chances to victories.'-K. MURALI KUMAR

Anup Sridhar had his best moments at the World Championship where he entered the quarterfinals. He, however, looks upon his performance as the beginning of things to come. “I look forward to playing like this more often,” he says in a chat with Kalyan Ashok.

Anup, aged 24, can look back at his performance with great satisfaction. It has given him plenty of hope and confidence, and also helped him climb up the world rankings, from No. 40 to 29.

There was no doubt about the talent of the Padukone Badminton Academy trainee, who represents Petroleum Sports Promotion Board. Standing six feet tall, with a strong build and power-packed strokes, Anup always had the ability to stretch the best of players, as his mentor Prakash Padukone observed, but he lacked that extra push to wrap up a big win.

Anup, India’s No. 1 and winner of the national men’s singles titles in 2005 and 2006, has had a fairly good season in 2007. He was a semifinalist in the ABC Championship and the German Open, before entering the quarterfinals of the World Championship.

Anup is not resting on his laurels. “It is just a stepping stone to bigger challenges,” he says. In a chat with Sportstar soon after his return from the World Championship, Anup spoke at length about his game, his hopes and dreams.

The excerpts:

Question: What does the performance at Kuala Lumpur mean to you?

Answer: As I have been saying the past few days since my return from the World Championship, I look upon my performance as the beginning of things to come. Scoring two big back-to-back wins has boosted my confidence and I look forward to playing like this more often.

Any important lesson you learnt from your showing?

Yes, I guess. I always knew that I could beat some of those top guns, but doing that was difficult and somehow the chances slipped out of my hands in the past. But this time, I made sure that I stayed focussed and converted my chances to victories. Both the wins came after tough fights. So the lesson is in believing in yourself and fighting till the end. Against Lin Dan, of course, it was different, but I felt that I should have done better in the second game and should not have given up so easily.

Anup Sridhar with his mentors Vimal Kumar (centre) and Prakash Padukone.-K. MURALI KUMAR

Did you go with any particular plan against Hidayat?

I have played against him earlier at ABC, but did not beat him. The plan was to check him from moving to the net and staying calm towards the end game. Hidayat is a player who comes pretty strongly towards the end and he always pulls off something special. So one had to be patient against him during such situations. I tried doing that and it worked.

You have said that the training at Kuala Lumpur before the World Championship helped you a lot. Do you feel that training abroad will be a good career move for you now?

I am absolutely confident that (training abroad) will help. My coaches, Prakash Padukone and Vimal Kumar, trained abroad in their prime, and they too feel that I should do that now. Even the National coach P. Gopi Chand spent quite some time in Germany before he became very consistent. Training abroad should really help me, and I guess this is the right time to do it.

Which place would be ideal for you to train?

Denmark. I had trained for a while there and played for Skaelskor Club in Copenhagen. I prefer to play there because I can get to play for a club in Denmark. Club culture is pretty strong out there. Besides training, I would get to play some of the top Danish and European players including Peter Gade and Kenneth Johansson.

You were among those players who joined the Padukone Academy at a very young age. You were only 11 years old then. How has the Academy shaped your career?

Whatever I am today in badminton, it is all due to the Tata Padukone Badminton Academy. They provided me with facilities, coaches and gave me chances to play in major tournaments abroad. The whole credit goes to them.

With Padukone as your mentor, you had the privilege of learning from the best brain in the game. Any personal attributes you admire in him or learnt from him?

Technically, it is hard to match the control, deception and strokeplay of Prakash Sir. But I am better built and smash better. That apart what I really learnt from him was to stay calm on and off the court, and think before I speak. I guess I am getting better in that now (laughs).

What are the strong and weak points of your game?

I think, I play much better at the net, but there is room for improvement. I should also work a little more on variations from the back of the court. I have got a good half smash and full smash, but to be consistent at the international level, I need a little more variety.

How do you rate your team-mates, Chetan Anand and Arvind Bhat?

I would say there are six players, not three, who are on equal footing in the game. Apart from myself, Arvind and Chetan, there are the younger lot, Anand Pawar, Kashyap and Ajay Jayaram, who are also very much on the same level. None of us can take our places in the Indian team for granted. We have to be on our toes all the time.

How would you rate Team India in badminton?

I would rate it as pretty good. Earlier, doubles was our weak link, but now it is becoming our asset, thanks to the excellent work done by our former doubles coach Hadi Sugiyanto. Not only the men’s combination of Rupesh and Sanave, but the women’s pair of Jwala and Shruti and the mixed pairs are getting a lot better. In the women’s singles, of course, we have Saina Nehwal. She is an inspiration to all of us, the way she trains, her attitude, her guts. It is great to have someone so young, so good in the team.

What would you rank as your best win? And your worst defeat?

My best win, of course, is the one over Taufik Hidayat. My worst loss was in the Junior National final in 2001-2002.

Who is your idol in the game?

I have an idol, but not in badminton. It is the Aussie tennis star, Lleyton Hewitt. He may not be the most talented player on earth but I love his attitude. He fights the hardest.

Apart from your hard work, your academy and coaches, your family has supported you a lot…

My family is as perfect as it can be. Not only my parents and sister, but also my relatives have been supportive of me. To nurture a son’s ambition in badminton must be difficult, as most parents prefer their children to play either cricket or tennis. But my parents somehow felt that I had the talent to make it big in badminton and they have been with me through everything.

Any long term goals?

I have not thought on those lines, but even if I have, I would rather keep it to myself at this stage. The short term goal right now is to keep playing well and give my best in the Indian Open.

How do you spend your leisure time?

I read a lot, fiction and non-fiction. I also watch movies and listen to music. I didn’t get around to playing other games, but I played a little bit of snooker, but not now.