Dubai: Injuries are part and parcel of every sportsperson’s life and Indian world champion P.V. Sindhu, who is making her comeback after a four-month layoff, looks positively on what lies ahead this year and the next, which is more significant as an Olympics year.
The 27-year-old is chasing the Olympic gold in Paris 2024 and the World No 1 ranking. For that, Sindhu focuses on the IBF World Championships in August and then the Asian Games in Hangzhou in September to give herself a chance to get the coveted titles. The two-time Olympic medal winner speaks about her plans and the reasons for her multiple losses in the finals in an exclusive interview to Gulf News, after arriving for the draw ceremony for the Asia Badminton Mixed Team Championship, to be held in Dubai from February 14-19. Excerpts …
So it’s been a long career for you, a very successful one. How do you look back at your career?
I would say it’s a long journey and a lot of things to learn. It’s an experience altogether. Back then, when I started playing, it was just for fun. Of course, there have been lot of sacrifices put in and then there have also been lots of ups and downs. When you look back now, it feels really great coming so far. At the same time, I feel really happy, because I’ve got the support that is always needed, because my parents themselves were sportspersons. That support and motivation they are giving me even now is what is required for an athlete. That motivation, when you are at your lows, keeps you going.
India right now are in eighth spot in Asia ranking. So with Olympics next year, how important is this event?
It’s extremely important. Team event is something where it’s a different atmosphere altogether and one needs to play and support equally as a team. It’s always nice to have events like these, and there’s also ranking when you get a few points. But apart from that, everybody’s looking at the Paris Olympics 2024, but before that we have a lot of tournaments and the Olympic qualification. Each event is very important and it’s going to be a hectic year. At the same time we need to pick and choose what tournaments to play because you also have to stay physically fit and stay injury-free as well.
You’re coming back from an injury. How well have you recovered from your injury?
I mean, it’s all well. I started playing tournaments from this January. I had a hairline fracture where I had to take a break for almost four months. I missed few tournaments [World Championships and Uber Cup]. But I think it’s also important to keep your body safe and fit because injuries are something that needs a break for a longer period of time. Rather, you take care of your body and make sure you don’t have an injury and stay physically fit and play 100 per cent.
So what are your personal targets for 2023? Are you looking at getting the elusive world No 1 title?
There are a lot of tournaments. Firstly, I want to play well and win some tournaments. My ultimate aim would be get a medal at Paris 2024, but before that, short-term goals for this year I would say Asian Games and, of course, the World Championships in August. I hope to do well and win a few tournaments.
How do you manage expectations. Everybody expects you to win all the time?
Expectations are always there, pressure is always on. At times you can’t keep up to people’s expectations where sometimes it might be your day, sometimes it might not be your day. But it’s important that you give you 100 per cent rather than thinking what people want, because that would add extra pressure. So you just have to focus on how you have to play, what you have to play and just give your best.
The badminton scene in India is vastly different now as opposed to you starting the game. What next?
Badminton as a sport is definitely improving and growing. So I would say that there are a lot of youngsters there and there is a lot of talent. But at the same time, it’s not going to be easy, because you need to have the right guidance and you need to have right coaches to guide you in the right way. It takes years and years of hard work to come to a level. So if you have the right guidance and right coaches and the right people to guide you, I’m sure you will get a lot of medals in the next coming few years.
There is a shortage of icons in badminton now after you and Saina, something similar to Indian tennis. How do we get more stars to keep the game flourishing?
In men’s event, HS Pranoy and Lakshya Sen are doing well and we have Kidambi Srikanth and other younger players. In women’s after me and Saina, there is a bit of gap. It takes a few years to cover that gap, but I’m sure there are a lot of youngsters who could come in, but it is going to take a few years. So that’s what I said, you need to have the right guidance and right coaches. It’s not just that a group of players are training under a coach. You have to make sure that every individual needs get individual training, based of their body type and style of play. It’s not going to work like that. So I think from the grassroots level that should be there, then I’m sure things will change and there will be a lot of improvement and there’ll be a lot more athletes. For example, in one tournament there are six or seven Chinese players and then in the next one you see some more athletes coming up. So to have that, we also need to start attending every individual need and give separate treatment.
What is the role of your coach now and over the years starting with Gopi Chand?
I’m not training under him anymore, it’s been a long time now. So I’ve had a different set of coaches from the time I’ve started, until now. Of course, I’m thankful to everyone because each coach has taught me different things, different strategies and different skills. Right now, I am training under Park and right now I’m looking for different coaches because you need to understand that every player has a different style of play and you need to strategise accordingly. A coach and an athlete relationship should be in such a way where you need to understand what the opponent is playing. If Plan A doesn’t work, you need to immediately change to Plan B. So you need to strategise accordingly and work it out.
So what is the different aspect that you are looking from the new coach?
For me, coming to this level is OK, but maintaining it is even more harder because when you start winning, the opponents are going look at your games and strategise in such a way to beat you the next time. So we need to make sure that we have different sets of plans. At the same time, me being an attacking player, people don’t give me the chance to attack, because I’m tall. So they make sure that they play more of downward strokes. So I need to be stronger in defence to make sure that they cannot get a point from me. So that’s how I am strategising now.
For a long time you were coming into the finals and not winning it, what changed?
I would say coming to finals itself is definitely a big thing. A lot of people ask me, you know what is happening to you after coming to the finals. But I mean, it just wasn’t my day because I’ve given 100 per cent and I played my game. Some even asked me, do you have a phobia? There was a scenario in 2018 I lost almost like eight finals. Finally, in December, I won the World Two final, one of the top tournaments, and gave an answer through my racket.
So is there any loss, which hurts you very badly?
Every loss hurts me very badly. Every match, every win is very memorable and at the same time you learn a lot from your losses. You learn from your mistakes and bounce back stronger. I think that is very important at the end of the day.
Was it due to lack of confidence, because sometimes you start doubting yourself at that point of time?
I wasn’t doubting myself, but at the same time I wasn’t also thinking about what has happened. Strategy-wise, maybe I could have changed something else. It was with different opponents that I’ve been losing, but at the same time I beat all of them in the other tournaments. So it’s just that on that day who plays the best and gives the best wins, is what I feel.