Sindhu one of the toughest players to face: Tai Tzu Ying
Chinese Taipei’s Tai Tzu Ying is excited about one particular thing on her visit to India. “I am looking forward to eating dosas,” she said. Apart from feasting on the south Indian delicacy, the world No. 2 shuttler has other important plans too as she gears up to represent Bengaluru Raptors as the costliest foreign player in the fifth season of the Premier Badminton League (PBL) beginning in Chennai from Monday.
In a hectic Olympic year where every tiny window of rest is worth its weight in gold, Tai Tzu—coming off a final appearance at the Malaysia Masters—wants to remain at the peak of her prowess. “As a badminton player, I need to keep enjoying and stay connected with the game,” the 25-year-old said. “Coming to play PBL this season was a decision to utilise this gap constructively and play matches in India. With many players participating here who we play all year along in the circuit, I am sure this will not only help me to stay at the top of my game but also enjoy the colour, fun and warmth that comes along with PBL.”
Tai Tzu knows a thing or two about staying at the top, perhaps more than anybody else. Ever since she managed to scale the top of the world rankings in December 2016 at the age of 22, she has only budged ever so slightly. Tai Tzu lost her No. 1 spot for a couple of weeks in 2018, setting a record last year for most accumulated weeks (125) as the top-ranked BWF women’s singles player. It is only since July 2019 that her stranglehold on rankings has seen competition, with Chinese Chen Yu Fei currently holding the torch.
For a player who has been at the top of her game over the last three years, it is ironic that Tai Tzu doesn’t believe in numbers. “Numbers and rankings don’t really matter to me that much. I am a very simple person who just loves to play badminton and enjoy life and be happy. The rest will happen, and I also know that nothing remains permanent,” she said.
If simplicity is her mantra, consistency is her forte. Tai Tzu has clinched 10 titles on the BWF tour in the last couple of years, apart from pocketing the gold at the 2018 Asian Games. Her brutal offensive game can put even the most in-form players off their games, and Tai Tzu is aware that the key to her consistency is not dropping her own guard. “As long as I can keep a check on my mistakes, I know I can win matches. The mistakes that I make are absolutely basic. Generally, people don’t make them but, in my case, I tend to make more of such basic mistakes. So, if I can keep a check on them, then the results follow. Fitness is equally important as well as we have frequent matches to play,” she said.
It will be more crucial this year, with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in sight. And for all the triumphs, titles and supremacy that Tai Tzu has tasted in her glittering career so far, an Olympic medal remains elusive. “I want to win the Olympic medal and I am working hard towards it,” she said. “My training has been good; thrice a day on-court training along with two hours a day of gym training. And this is how I have train usually, so there is nothing special in the build-up to the Olympics. But I am training hard, both on court and fitness wise. I give equal importance to mental and physical well-being, so I am working on all aspects,” she added.
In the 2016 Rio Games, she was blown away by a rampaging PV Sindhu in the pre-quarterfinals, and their rivalry has only grown since. Although the Chinese Taipei enjoys a 12-5 head to head record against the Indian, Sindhu tends to solve the Tai Tzu puzzle in the big tournaments, most recently being in the 2019 World Championships. It is hardly a surprise, thus, that Tai Tzu regards Sindhu has one of her most challenging rivals.
“She (Sindhu) is a tough player. Her hard smashes are difficult to return and she utilises her height and power to her advantage. She is definitely one of the toughest players to face. We have had many close matches, where she used her height and power and that is what makes her a difficult player,” she said.
The two are also set to clash in the PBL this season, for which Tai Tzu was purchased by Bengaluru Raptors for R77 lakh, making her the costliest buy at the auctions. Not that the high price tag puts an additional burden on Tai Tzu. “Well, I am grateful that people think that they can spend so much (money) on me. But pressure is something that doesn’t happen to me. PBL matches are a team format, so it is an equal responsibility for players that we play to win for the team and not just our own game. My coaches used to say back in my early days: there are many who are training out there and I just happen to be a bit more talented, that is it. So for me, I just go out there and enjoy my badminton,” she said.