On a new high

“My immediate target is to break into the top 10 by the year-end,” says Parupalli Kashyap, who is ranked World No. 19. By V. V. Subrahmanyam.

Almost a year ago, Parupalli Kashyap faced the threat of a premature end to his career. He suffered a serious asthma attack on the court in Malaysia. He was unable to comprehend what was happening to him, for he was always very careful with his medication.

Kashyap, however, mustered courage and told himself, “If I can battle out this phase, why not venture to achieve excellence in badminton?”

Within a year’s time, the 25-year-old from Hyderabad became a part of Indian badminton history. At the 2012 London Games, he became the first men’s singles player from the country to reach the quarterfinals of the Olympics.

“Honestly, now I am feeling totally different. It is not that I am overconfident, but now I have a gut feeling that I can beat the best of players if I sustain my level of consistency,” said Kashyap, who had taken a day’s break from his daily training at the Pullela Gopi Chand Academy.

“But again, as Gopi Anna (former All England champion Pullela Gopi Chand) insists, I have to keep working hard and stay focussed. He reminds me that I need not do anything extra. ‘Just be consistent and take it event by event’, he says,” Kashyap said, as his parents (Parupalli Uday Shankar and Subadhra) nodded in approval.

It was a double delight of sorts for Kashyap, who gave the World No. 1, Lee Chong Wei, a torrid time in the quarterfinals of the London Olympics. Soon after returning to India, he was given the prestigious Arjuna Award.

“The Arjuna Award is something special; it means so much. Honestly, I never gave a serious thought to it, for I never thought that my recent Indonesian Open and the Olympics performances would be taken into consideration,” he said.

“Well, these kinds of awards lift your image and the confidence level, for you join the select band of some real big achievers in sports,” he added.

Kashyap has now started dreaming big. “My immediate target is to break into the top 10 by the year-end (he is now ranked World No. 19), and I am determined to keep improving. Olympic medal remains my ultimate goal,” he said.

“The game, I think, is slowly rewinding now in terms of long rallies. You have to be patient and play the waiting game. It is still very fast, but if you are able to cut down on the negatives and don’t try too much you can still win big games,” Kashyap said. “I think this is the biggest lesson (I learnt) after my defeat to Lee Chong Wei in London. When I look back, I think I made a few unforced errors at critical junctures of the match. However, more importantly, I did not feel the pressure at all, for my first objective was not to lose badly as Simon Santoso did to Lee in the previous round. I am glad that I could give the World No. 1 a run for his money,” he recalled.

“I want to take it event by event; I don’t want to think too far right now though an Olympic medal is a big chase, as that will mean inviting pressure and anyhow the next Olympics in Rio (Brazil) is four years away,” said Kashyap, a Grade I officer in the IOC.

Does he think that he needs to change his game a bit?

“I don’t think so. I am happy with the way I have been training for the last six months, especially in the run-up to the Olympics. In fact, it was a completely different programme that Gopi Anna had for all of us before the London Games.

“This is the reason why I now feel I can beat the best in the world. Definitely, the Asian circuit will give me another chance to concentrate on my areas of focus,” he said.

Kashyap has a problem finding a sparring partner of equal class. To overcome this problem, Gopi makes him train in one-against-three sparring sessions at the Academy. “Honestly, I am fortunate to have someone like Gopi Anna as my coach. What commitment he shows,” said Kashyap.

When questioned whether it was a difficult choice to leave the Fateh Maidan Indoor Stadium, where he had learnt the basics of the badminton under Dronacharya S. M. Arif, Kashyap said: “What is important is how well you are performing. And I am happy with the way things are going right now even though I can’t forget the strong foundation I had early in my career.”

Kashyap is pained that sometimes people tend to write him off by saying that he is out of form, while conveniently forgetting the fact that it was injuries that forced him to skip some events, and in the process lose big points. “Honestly, I know how much of a struggle it was for me to qualify for the Olympics. Not many gave me a chance. But thanks to the splendid support of my coach (Gopi) and also to the Olympic Gold Quest, I realised my dream of making it to London,” he recalled.

One of the biggest inspirations for him was when star cricketer Yuvraj Singh walked over to him during the Arjuna Awards presentation ceremony at the Rashtrapathi Bhavan in New Delhi and said: “I watched your matches at the Olympics. Enjoyed them all, keep going.”

“It was so nice of him to not only exchange pleasantries but also say a few encouraging words. Coming from such a big star who himself battled adversity (cancer) to earn his place back in the Indian team was definitely a huge source of inspiration for me,” Kashyap said.

If there is anything that has disheartened him, it is the lack of any incentive for his performance in the Olympics. “I find it strange, I did not get even a single cash incentive till now. There are many State governments which made decent announcements in this regard to their athletes even if they had not won a medal,” Kashyap said.

“It is always easy to say that a country like India doesn’t produce many Olympic medallists. But how many bother to even think of the hardships that parents face in shaping and guiding the destiny of their kids keen on taking up sport as a career. It is a big gamble,” Kashyap pointed out.

According to Kashyap, his real journey begins now — the journey to a medal at the 2016 Olympics. Gopi has high hopes on India’s best men’s singles player. “He has the class and the game to go places. All that he has to do is keep a cool head, be consistent,” said the former All England champion.

* * * Kashyap factfile 2006: Junior National champion

Won the 33rd National Games gold medal, beating Chetan Anand.

2008: Runner-up in three major tournaments — Thailand International, Spanish Open and Toulouse Open.

2009: Entered the semifinals of the Singapore Super Series.

2010: Won the bronze medal in the Commonwealth Games.

2011: Entered the final of the National Championship.

2012: Entered the semifinals of the Indonesia Open Super Series; first Indian to make it to the men’s singles quarterfinals in Olympics in London; presented the Arjuna Award.