Kolkata: Ever since winning the World Championships in Basel last Sunday, Pusarla Venkata Sindhu has been the toast of India. From meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi to being felicitated by all her sponsors, the cameras haven’t stopped rolling since she flew into New Delhi at midnight on August 26.
But Sindhu, in the midst of all the chaos, continues to sport a smile and absorb it all. She has been there and done that in the aftermath of Rio 2016 and knows that in a country starved of sporting champions, this is routine. The 24-year-old knows she needs to remain rooted because the biggest challenge of her career is less than a year away at the Tokyo Olympics and that’s what she now needs to focus on.
In an exclusive interview over the phone, Sindhu reflects on what the win means to her and her family, and what lies ahead of her in the coming months. Excerpts:
It has come finally, you are world champion...
Indeed it has and has come in a really nice manner. It means a lot to me and my family and for the entire country. I missed out on two golden opportunities in the last two years and as a result, people felt it was not in me to win gold. I knew deep down I could do it and needed to prove my detractors wrong.
When I made the final this time round, I was determined to make it count. I went on the attack from the start of the match and managed to keep the intensity right through. Though it was all over in 37 minutes, it was still a contest that had long rallies and what was important was that I managed to win most of them.
You clearly got emotional when you saw the tricolour going up and the national anthem playing. It must have meant the world to you.
It did. I can’t really express to you what it means to see your flag go up and also hear the national anthem, and to know that you are responsible for it to go up makes you feel so fulfilled. I am a hugely patriotic person and there was no way I could stop my emotions from getting the better of me. I had waited to see the flag go up at the top for several years and hear the national anthem being played. Finally, it was happening. I was no longer second best. I had managed to win it for my country and it was a just reward to hear the national anthem being played.
Anything you did differently this time round?
Not particularly. I had trained well and prepared well. Under my coach Kim, we added a few things to my game and with Gopi Sir there in my corner, it always helps. They were able to read the finer points of my game and as I said, I was committed to doing well. I’d say the quarter final against Tai [Tzu Ying] made a big difference to the campaign. I was down a game and it was really close. While at no point did I lose self belief, I have to say it was a really tough match and had given me a lot of confidence going into the semi-final against Chen [Yu Fei].
In a country starved of sports champions, you are a rare breed. Now the expectations will skyrocket ahead of Tokyo.
I don’t mind expectations, rather people’s expectations motivate me. It means a huge number of your people are with you and want you to do well. Everyone is following you and as long as you don’t treat this as pressure, you are fine. I have been able to deal with these pressure and don’t see a problem going forward.
The most important competition of your life is less than 12 months away. While you savour this title, you must having one eye on Tokyo.
Yes, there is no doubt it is the biggest tournament for everyone of us. My life had changed when I won the silver medal in Rio and I know what it means to my country to win a second Olympic medal. With my coaches and my parents backing me, there is no reason why I can’t repeat what I did four years earlier and in fact go one better.
It is my ultimate goal and I will do everything I can to achieve it. Having said that, there are a lot more tournaments in the next few months and each of them are important. I want to do well in most of them while not losing focus on Tokyo.
It was nice to see you dedicate the trophy to your mother. A fitting tribute for the sacrifices they have put in.
Without my parents supporting me, I couldn’t have done a third of what I have. I was thinking what to give her for her birthday and now she says this is the best gift she has ever got. There can’t be a better feeling for me than to see them really happy!
— The writer is the official biographer of Sachin Tendulkar, a senior sports journalist and scholar based in India.