Keeping things simple is her style

Sport runs in the family... P.V. Sindhu with the bronze medal she won at the World Championships recently. She is flanked by her parents, Vijaya and P.V. Ramana, who were National volleyball players.-V.V. SUBRAHMANYAM

“The Asian under-19 title and the big win against the reigning Olympic champion, Liu Xuerui, gave me the confidence to aim big,” says P. V. Sindhu in a chat with V. V. Subrahmanyam.

Pusarla Venkata Sindhu, the new Indian badminton star on the horizon, believes that her historic bronze medal in the women’s singles of the World Championships recently, is just one big step forward in her career. “I still have a long way to go,” she says.

In a free and frank interview to Sportstar, the first woman badminton player from India to win an individual medal at the Worlds sheds light on her latest achievement and future goals.

“Honestly, a medal was not what I was thinking about at the World Championships. Because of the very tough draw, my focus was more on taking the event match by match. Definitely, I am happy with the end result, though it would have been a different feeling if only I had entered the final,” says Sindhu.

Born into a family of sportspersons (her mother, Vijaya, and father, P. V. Ramana, were volleyball players), it is not surprising that Sindhu has acquired qualities such as fighting spirit and positive energy — traits that are associated with a champion. More importantly, the 18-year-old player is aware of the “amount of hard work one has to put in to steer clear of the group of contenders to become the real challenger.”

Did Sindhu expect this kind of result so early in her career?

“Not really, but, yes, I strongly believed that a good work ethic will have a serious, positive impact on any budding athlete’s career. And ever since I played in the tournament organised by the Andhra Pradesh Badminton Players Association (about six years ago) — thanks to the initiative of Manoj Kumar and Praveen Kumar — at the Fateh Maidan Indoor Stadium, I decided that if I were to make it big in sport, it should be badminton,” she recalls.

For Sindhu — who fine-tuned her game under the tutelage of Mehboob Ali, Dronacharya Award winner S. M. Arif and the SAAP coach, Goverdhan Reddy, early in her career — joining the Gopi Chand Academy was the turning point. “Honestly, the training methods, the emphasis on discipline and the demanding daily regimen point to a system in place at the Academy. It’s pure delight for anyone, be it a beginner or a seasoned player. The meticulous care and the kind of attention they give each player, with Gopi Anna (former All England champion Pullela Gopi Chand) himself monitoring the progress of the wards, is amazing,” she explains.

Talking of her growing stature in the international circuit, Sindhu says: “I won’t say that this or that particular performance meant that I would become a world champion one day. I like to keep things simple. But, yes, definitely the Asian under-19 title and the big win against the reigning Olympic champion, Liu Xuerui, gave me the confidence to aim big.”

The experience of training in an Academy where she constantly spars with the likes of Saina Nehwal has proved to be quite significant for Sindhu. “It means a lot. Saina is the kind of player from whom I can learn a lot, pick up a few new aspects of the game. Her sheer experience and wonderful performances are a huge inspiration to me,” she says.

Touted as the next best bet from India in women’s badminton after Saina must be a great feeling for Sindhu. But does it also mean more pressure?

“Honestly, when I enter the court during an event, I don’t think of anything else, not even about the reputation of my opponents. Yes, it is some kind of honour for me to be compared with Saina, but sincerely, I put a full stop there. I don’t give too much thought to this. I am conscious that if I have to be good at the highest level, I have to perform well and not try to live off my reputation,” she explains.

As for the different styles of their games, she says: “I love to look at the positives in any player. As all champions repeatedly say, and which I try to follow, learning is a huge, unending process. There is no way any two players’ styles can be compared, for anyone has to change on a given day. Yes, sincerity, commitment and hard work are the best qualities of Saina which I love to follow.”

With regard to the Malaysian Open Grand Prix title and the bronze medal at the World Championships recently, Sindhu is of the view that it is always important to keep winning big events. “But, at the same time, my parents keep telling me that winning cannot be the only goal. In every failure, you tend to pick up a few important lessons which should help you become better player,” she adds.

What does Saina’s success story against the big Chinese players mean to Sindhu?

“Well, her fabulous wins certainly gave us the self-belief, that no one is unbeatable in this sport. But again, you need to get everything right on a given day against an opponent,” says Sindhu.

Recently, Gopi Chand said that he wished he could have helped Parupalli Kashyap at a crucial juncture during his quarterfinal match in the World Championships, when he was very close to victory. Since Saina was playing her quarterfinal at the same time on the adjacent court, he was not able to do so. Is the presence of a coach once a player reaches that level so important?

“It does make a big difference. As players, we may not be in a position to make a quick, critical analysis of any possible weaknesses in our rivals’ game. But a coach will be able to make a quick assessment and pass on valuable tips and also suggest minor but significant changes in strategy to counter the opponents. I feel a coach does make a big difference in such situations no matter how experienced a player you are,” says Sindhu.

When the conversation shifts to the recognition that the performing badminton players are getting now, Sindhu says: “I am fortunate to be playing at a time when the media has been really supportive. This, in a way, also means that any athlete has to perform well and cannot relax. I have no issues and in fact, I am delighted at the kind of coverage my bronze medal at the Worlds received. These are the kind of things that make you set new goals.”

Gopi Chand has often mentioned that 2016 Rio Olympics gold is his next big target and that Sindhu is one of the main players in the scheme of things. “I don’t think it is impossible, but certainly, you need a little bit of luck. Might be too early to comment on our prospects in the 2016 Games, but if we maintain our consistency and fitness levels, we might well fulfil Gopi anna’s dream,” says the World No. 10 with a broad smile.

As for the Indian Badminton League, Sindhu is of the view that the event is another major step in the right direction. The IBL, according to her, not only gives the sport in the country the much-needed fillip but also presents a huge opportunity to many relatively unknown players to get into the limelight, play with some of the best in the world and improve their game. “This is a wonderful concept and I am really enjoying this,” says Sindhu, the icon player of Awadhe Warriors.