PV Sindhu opens up about handling success and unwavering belief in coach Gopichand - Exclusive interview
Homely and modest, those were the words that came to my mind as we walked through the gates of the SAI Gopichand National Badminton Academy in Hyderabad. I had always imagined the place to be a grand theatre, but it had a rather unremarkable facade for a place which had given Indian sports some of its biggest champions in the past decade.
As we entered the building and started to settle down, getting ready in turn for the busy schedule of interviews, I realised why this place had and continues to produce so many top quality athletes. This was more like a school, where India’s finest badminton talents would submit themselves to the tutelage of ‘Gopi Sir’, who would then mould them into world beaters.
We were slowly putting our equipments in place as we were told that our big ticket interview was still a few hours away, until someone announced, “please get your cameras ready, Sindhu is here.” I had last interviewed the shuttler on the eve of the opening season of India’s first professional badminton league way back in 2013. Back then Sindhu was a shy teenager, still learning the ropes of handling her newfound success and most importantly the media.
The Sindhu who walked in a few moments later was a different person. Tall, lean and sinewy, her gait easy yet extremely confident. The Sindhu of now had travelled the world, won many titles, rubbed shoulders with celebrities from other walks of life and most importantly she was assured of her place among the legends of Indian sports, even if she were to retire the same day. It reflected in the calm and candour with which she handled my first question on tackling expectations and scrutiny at every step of her now fabled career.
“There is always scrutiny and pressure from the media. I am always told that I have to win. I do understand that I have a responsibility and it has only increased after the Olympic medal.
Every time I go on to the court people expect me to get a medal. It is tough and I can’t win always but I still have to go out there and give my best. If you think about the expectations then there will be extra pressure. I believe in performing and the results follow and that keeps everyone happy,” the 23-year old shuttler said.
At the time of the interview, Sindhu was preparing to launch one final campaign to end 2018 with a gold medal. The year so far had turned out to be one of near misses for her as she had lost in the summit clash of a few top bracket tournaments. But the young achiever said every medal that she wins motivates her to keep moving ahead.
“It has been really good that I have had lots of medals and that’s what keeps pushing me and motivating me. This is only the start and there is a lot to come. Having all these medals behind me helps me believe that there is a long way to go,” said Sindhu who would in a week’s time from the interview go on to become the first Indian to win the year-ending BWF World Tour Finals title.
Talking about her equation with her mentor and national badminton coach Pullela Gopichand, Sindhu said that she had unwavering faith and belief in her coach. Sindhu has been seen looking at Gopichand for direction when things are not going her way in matches and the Rio Olympics silver medallist had an interesting explanation for that.
“Being Gopi sir’s student for so long I know what he is trying to tell me when things aren’t going my way on court. I know I have to change my plans when he points them out and I should be able to do it immediately. You need to believe in him to be able to make those changes and I believe in him.”
Sindhu has been involved in several see-saw battles in high profile matches and when asked about who her toughest opponent is, she had two names to give.
“I have had lot of tough and long matches. There are a couple of players with whom my matches have gone up and down. One is Okuhara and the other is the Olympic champion Carolina Marin. There are these players and I like facing the challenge against them.”
Talking about her life post the high of the Rio Olympics silver medal, Sindhu said that she is happy to be in the limelight and is enjoying every bit of it.
“Life has changed both on and off the court after the Rio Olympics medal. I have a lot of confidence on the court now and feel anything is possible. I also feel that I have improved my game. Off the court I do get recognised more now. People come for autographs and then there are the endorsements. Life has become busy but I am enjoying being in the limelight. When I was young I looked at those who were popular and wanted to be like them and now that I am in the limelight I must enjoy it.”
Sindhu will be representing her home town Hyderabad in the upcoming season of the Premier Badminton League and the shuttler is excited at the opportunity to play in front of her home fans.
“I am excited to be part of the Hyderabad Hunters team for this season of the PBL. Obviously there will be a lot of home support and I want to win the title for them. PBL is very exciting as we team up with a lot of different players and coaches. We interact with the foreign players and get to learn from them. Everyday in the PBL is a learning process.”
While the next Olympics is still more than a year away, people are already talking about whether badminton can produce India’s next individual Olympic gold and Sindhu has her sights on the yellow metal.
“Definitely looking ahead to the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo and that is the aim for everyone. I am working hard and will be aiming for the gold medal. It won’t be easy but I have to work hard for it.”
There have been lot of theories and stories about Sindhu’s equation with her compatriot and rival Saina Nehwal, who recently got married to fellow badminton player Parupalli Kashyap. When asked about their relationship off the court, Sindhu said they are on cordial terms.
“On court we have to play aggressively against each other but off the court we are friends. You don’t need to be an enemy of someone’s if you are not friends and we definitely aren’t enemies. When we meet each other we are just friends,” the champion shuttler signed off.