Lucknow: World No 116 Tanvi Lad wasn’t jittery but excited as she readied for her women’s singles match against reigning world champion PV Sindhu.
“I was looking forward to the match. I’ve always enjoyed playing in Lucknow and have performed well here in the past,” said Lad.
“Coming back from injury, it’s important for me to get some tough matches under my belt.”
Lad was referencing her right-knee injury, which required corrective surgery in April 2018 and six months of rehab before she could step out on the court again.
In 2017, Lad was ranked 49 in the world rankings and was the third-best ranked women’s singles player from India, after PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal.
Being sidelined due to injury meant that by the time she regained full fitness, her ranking had plummeted to 264, in December 2018.
When she stepped on the court for Awadhe Warriors, to play against Sindhu of Hyderabad Hunters in the Premier Badminton League 2020 (PBL), the gap in both players’ rankings was huge.
Lad, ranked 116 in the world, is a world away from Sindhu, the top-ranked Indian and World No 6.
It was a colossal mismatch on paper.
For Lad, however, the match was a fresh installment in her rivalry with the 24-year-old Sindhu. “Sindhu and I go way back. We had a fierce rivalry when we were competing on the junior circuit.”
“Of course, she took off and became the player she is today. It was bound to be a tough match and I gave it my all,” said Lad, after losing her match 15-8, 15-8.
The gulf in both players’ skills was evident at the outset.
The cross-court smash came early from Sindhu, leaving Lad no chance but to see the shuttle kiss the tramlines for a winner.
Barring some artsy drops off her backhand at the net, Lad couldn’t do much to arrest her downfall. Sindhu stormed into the mid-game interval of the first game, ahead 8-1.
The rallies gained some heat thereafter as Lad tried to push past her imposing opponent.
The Warriors shuttler tried to prevent the World No 6 from landing her smashes by luring her to the net in the second game.
Lad even brought the deficit down to just three points at 6-9. However, she could only win two more points in the game as Sindhu's superior shot-making helped her finish the match effortlessly in favour of Hyderabad Hunters, who went on to win the tie against Awadhe Warriors 2-1.
Asked about her takeaways from the match, Lad conceded that she was far from playing at her best.
“Post my injury, I’ve had to reinvent my game to ensure that I don’t put much pressure on my knee joint. These are technical errors, requiring biomechanical corrections in my footwork,” said Lad.
“I’ve come a long way since the injury but it’s a process. The technical corrections will take some time.”
Lad, who’ll turn 27 this month, has had a tough road since she first burst onto the world stage by winning the Bahrain International tournament in 2013.
Even as India has embraced women’s badminton, celebrating the success of PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal on the BWF World Tour, Lad’s journey is far removed from the spotlight.
In 2016, Lad, who hails from Mumbai, opened up about the harrowing time she had faced in looking for sponsors who could help foot the financial costs that come with competing as a professional badminton player.
Three years down the line, things have improved but only marginally. “It’s still a struggle. Even when I was ranked 49, there weren’t many people willing to help.”
“It’s expensive. You need to play 12-15 tournaments a year, manage your training, diet, nutrition and psychology. It’s years of investment and you never know when it will click. All that while, you can’t be compromising on anything.”
“I’m thankful to Westside, who’ve been sponsoring me the past couple of years. Their support has helped me make a comeback.”
For Lad, her comeback post-injury was aided by her return to the national camp in Hyderabad. “There are a lot of things that we take for granted when we are training in the Gopichand academy. Our training, nutrition, physios and playing equipment, everything is taken care of,” said Lad.
“When you’re playing on the outside, we tend to miss out on constant interaction with the best players in India. Moreover, your out-of-pocket expenses shoot up.”
As she plotted her comeback, 2019 saw her compete in tournaments of the lowest grade on the BWF World Tour, the Futures, some with a prize purse of just $500.
Other tournaments promised better financial returns for the winner. However, a title win eluded Lad.
Her best result in 2019 came when she was the runner-up in women’s singles at the Croatian International, a Futures event,
Beyond that, Lad could only manage one semi-final appearance, also at a Futures event.
Her results at the Superseries tournaments were less heartening. Lad bowed out of the Syed Modi International Grand Prix tournament held in Lucknow, in the first round of qualifiers.
In light of her recent results, the PBL comes as a welcome break for Lad, also facilitating her interaction with players whom she would otherwise not compete against, in the second-tier events of the world tour.
“You’re getting some of the best players in the world. This is an Olympic year so some of the bigger names are giving it a miss,” said Lad.
“We are all training in good academies with all facilities but when you play and train with more experienced players, it helps with the mindset. How to stay calm in crunch situations, win the big points. That’s what matters at the top level.”
“This is a great environment where we get to vibe with the best players and continuously learn,” she signed off.
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Updated Date: Jan 28, 2020 23:16:00 IST