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The Rediff Interview/Anup Sridhar

'It's a matter of time before I win a big event'

July 30, 2008

His deft placements at the net have been the hallmark of his game. And his supple wrist game makes him an enigma that is difficult to decipher.

Ask Taufik Hidayat or Muhammad Hafiz Hashim and they will vouch for that (having been unable to solve it at the World Badminton Championships in Kuala Lumpur last year). Even World champion Lin Dan has had problems of late answering some of his questions.

Anup Sridhar came of age in Malaysia last year and has, slowly but surely, built on that achievement, the most notable addition being a career-high singles ranking (24) in March. Even though injuries have pegged back his progress a bit recently, the 25-year-old is raring to go again.

In an exclusive interview with Special Correspondent Bikash Mohapatra ahead of the Beijing [Images] Olympics [Images], Anup appeared confidence personified. Whether that confidence manifests itself into an impressive performance remains to be seen.


To start with the obvious: your expectations from the forthcoming Beijing Olympics?

It's hard to say exactly what I'm expecting in terms of performance. The draw will be out on the 26th of this month and it'll be easier to know what to expect then.

(The draw held on Saturday ensured Anup an easy opening match against Portugal's Marco Vasconcelos, but his quarter of the draw also has tougher opponents in Shoji Sato, Peter Gade and Lin Dan)

That said, since this is the Olympics, anything is possible. The favourites will be under pressure. So, it is a good chance for people like me to make use of that and, maybe, pull off a couple of upsets.

How are you preparing for the 'big test'?

I've hired Tom John as a traveling coach since March and until the Olympics, which makes it six months.

I felt I was not moving forward as fast as I liked, and thought that he could bring about the necessary change. I feel like I'm in very good condition physically and that will definitely show on the court.

How does it feel when a legend like Prakash Padukone [Images] says you are a 'medal prospect'? Do you feel the same?

Pretty much everything I've learnt about badminton, I've learnt from his (Prakash Padukone) academy, from him and Vimal Kumar.

To hear him say that I'm a medal prospect feels very good, because he doesn't say things like that very often. I feel like I have a good chance in any match that I play; doesn't matter who my opponent is.

Anup SridharNo Indian shuttler has made it past the second round at the Olympics since badminton was introduced in 1992. Is it psychological, or simply a case of bad fortune (the draw)?

I don't know about the psychological part of it, but I think that some of the guys [from other countries] just played unbelievable and outplayed the Indians at the Olympics.

I think there is a lot of pressure to deal with and whoever does that the best will end up winning.

With the quota system restricting the number of Chinese players, do you think this is a glorious opportunity for other players to make a dent?

Honestly, I think all the Chinese players who have a chance at a medal have anyway qualified. Three of them have qualified. I don't think there are too many players who have a shot at a medal left out.

Saina Nehwal [Images] is also representing India at the Olympics and comparisons will definitely be made. How do you rate her chances vis-�-vis yours?

I had a better year last year and she definitely had a better year so far this year.

I would say that she has the momentum going for her, but I feel I'm able to put up my best performances at the biggest events. So, I'm feeling quite confident about my chances as well.

Last year was excellent for you in terms of results; everyone has high expectations every time you step on court now. How difficult is it to handle the weight of all the expectations? And how do you handle all the pressure?

Honestly, I set very high standards for myself and do my best to live up to them.

I think that I didn't handle the pressure very well last year immediately after the World Championships; but there were circumstances which were beyond my control, like injuries.

Looking back, I should probably have taken some time off from badminton to just relax. There's no denying the pressure that goes with being one of the top players from India, but I have a few people whose opinion matters to me. I don't care what anyone else thinks.  

How much have you improved as a player in the last 18 months? Assess yourself?

I would say that, especially right now, I'm in the best physical condition of my life. I have a lot of self belief, especially after those big wins last year. Of course, I've also matured and that has taught me to accept a bad day as just that (a bad day) and nothing more.  

You attained a career-high ranking earlier this year. How satisfying was that? Subsequently, how difficult was it when the injury meant you couldn't build up on that personal achievement?

I reached a ranking of 24 which is my highest so far. But I didn't really feel too much at that time.

I feel I'm capable of being much higher-ranked than that; I'm never really satisfied with anything less. Being injured has been very frustrating; it takes away a lot of hard work that I put in the prior weeks. But, then again, I can't control that part, so I won't complain about it.

Would it be right to say injury has played the 'villain' in your career? Every time you move up, it seems to pull you back.

I guess so. But a few years down the line I may realise that going through these injuries has made me tougher and, as a result, a better player.  

Prakash Padukone recently said, 'avoiding injuries is an art'. Your comments.

He is right about that. There are simple things that all of us can do better everyday. For example, warm-ups and stretching. When these areas are given enough importance, the chance of an injury comes down considerably. 

You can still be unlucky and get injured but chances are you'll be ok.

The last couple of matches against Lin Dan have been a case of so near yet so far. Is it because of the pressure? How would you explain those defeats?

When I played Lin at the World Championships, I didn't take my chances when I got them.

It could have been a different result if I had won that first game (Anup led 20-19 but couldn't convert the game point). Whereas at the All England [Images], I let him come back in the match after I won the first.

I'm learning more and more that strategy and tactics play a very important role in these big matches and I look forward to playing him again.

At 25, you are yet to win a big title at the international level. How much does this fact worry you?

It's been a deliberate strategy to play in the big tournaments in the last couple of years.

I want to get used to playing the best guys in the world. I don't think winning international series or challenge tournaments are of much consequence when you play the big tournaments.

I feel like I'm getting closer to winning and I think it's a matter of time before I win a big event.  

How has Tom John influenced your game in the last few months? Why did it take you so long to hire a personal coach?

Tom has made me much stronger and fitter physically. He has also altered my game in making me a bit more attacking.

I have a more definite game plan now. As you know, there isn't that much money in badminton and it is very expensive to hire a personal coach. I only could afford it this year and I went straight ahead and hired him.  

Coming back to your career, what has been the most satisfying moment (in terms of results) so far?

Since I had never won a national title in the age-group section, winning the senior national title in 2005 is the most satisfying moment so far.  

It's been some time since you last won the Nationals�

That's right. That is something I want to change at the next Nationals. Both in Patna and Goa [Images], I found it hard to be motivated. I now feel like that was because I was just playing too much without a break; I mean, the only real break I've had in the last three years has been when I was injured.

I've learned that I need to plan my season better and give myself a break every now and then.  

What are your targets for the rest of the year? Mention your long-term goals as well?

I would prefer to keep my long terms goals to myself. But, as for the rest of the year, of course, I want to do well at the Olympics. Then, I feel that if I can stay fit, I can break into the top-20 by the end of the year.

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