Pusarla Venkata Sindhu's stock has been steadily rising ever since she was 17, but after the badminton star won the silver medal at the Rio Olympics 2016, she gained cult status in India and grabbed entire nation's attention. She admits that the medal has been a life-changing event.
"After getting a medal at the Olympics, my life has changed. That medal boosted my confidence a lot," Sindhu said at the launch of 'Quest for Excellence' programme — a grassroots sports development initiative in association with badminton coach Pullela Gopichand.
"It kept motivating me all the time. So that's how I moved forward and have been performing really well. I feel this is only the starting point, and there is a long way ahead. So definitely, I need to work a lot more because the responsibility is always high. Reaching that stage is different, and maintaining that level is also totally different. You have to work a lot more," the 21-year-old said.
However, with great success come great expectations and responsibilities. Sindhu realises the fact that she has reached a level where she has to work harder to keep improving, but the added responsibility doesn't mean she has stopped enjoying the game.
"It's just that you have to give your best," she said. "Basically, you have to enjoy playing. If you take that pressure and think that you have to win, then you make it tougher for yourself. You might not give your 100 percent thinking about other people's expectations and (think that) you have to win," she added.
After her heroics at Rio, Sindhu went a step ahead and clinched her maiden Super Series title at the 2016 China Open. In a way, 2016 has been a breakthrough year for the Hyderabadi girl. She also won the Malaysia Masters Grand Prix gold, made it to the final of the Hong Kong Open, which opened the doors for an entry into her first World Super Series Finals appearance, where she reached the semi-final and secured a career-best ranking of six. 2016 was finally the year she managed to cross the finish line, after a series of defeats in the finals of major events.
"It was a fantastic year for me," Sindhu said. "Getting the silver medal was big. It was a dream come true and I always had this in mind that I wanted to win the Super Series title and that too was fulfilled. It really was fantastic," the 21-year-old added.
Sindhu definitely has her eyes on the World No 1 ranking, but says she doesn't want to hurry these things. "Definitely aiming for that (No 1 spot). Right now, I have a career best ranking of six. I am really very happy, but it's a step-by-step process. I wish this can continue and I hope I can reach the top," Sindhu said.
Sindhu admits that her thought process has changed after the historic medal win, but says she hasn't altered her strategies, which still depend on the situation of the game and the opponent she is up against.
"Each player has a different style and different strokeplay, so I employ a different game against each of them, and accordingly change strategies. It also depends on each point," she said. "I may suddenly see that a certain strategy might not work out, but there is the coach sitting alongside. He keeps telling me what has happened and what needs to change. So I adopt accordingly."
Badminton has seen the emergence of several talented young players in the last few years, and it's not just the Chinese players dominating the sport now. Sindhu, who lost in the semi-final of the year-ending Dubai Super Series Finals, says the sport as a whole has become more challenging with skilled players emerging from other countries as well.
"The top 20-30 players are all playing really well. Not just the ranking alone, the games' quality have also improved. It's not about low-ranked or high-ranked players anymore; anybody who gives his/her best on a particular day can be the winner. And not just the Chinese either; there are top players from every country today. Badminton has improved a lot as a sport. Compared to before, there are more players coming up today," he said.
Though reveling in her meteoric rise, Sindhu was quick to acknowledge the importance of Gopichand in her career. Gopi sir, as his proteges call him, has been the man behind India's rise in the badminton world. He has consistently churned out world-class players and single-handedly created the system that the country lacked.
"Gopi sir has played a very important role in my career. It's because of him that I am here today," Sindhu said. "I have been with him since the Under-10 days, and I have been improving step by step, and today I am here. When I started playing, I never thought I would become a top-class player. It was a gradual process. The coach's role is very important because he is always motivating you and supporting you. He's the one telling you what mistakes you are making, and if you repeat them, he helps rectify them. He's produced many players who have gone on to represent the country," Sindhu said.
Updated Date: Dec 23, 2016 09:42 AM