Has the bronze at the World Championship changed your life?
Yes, surely the people around me now expect more from me. I’ve been getting more attention wherever I go to play. I’m loving every bit of it because that motivates me to improve with every game, every tournament. I want to keep improving and raise the performance bar.
But, is it also a kind of bother as players around the world are now trying to read your game more?
I certainly don’t get irritated by this extra attention. This is what happens when you start doing well at the highest level. People were keeping a tab on my game earlier too. But after the bronze medal, my opponents have started taking me even more seriously. But this is good in a sense that I will have to learn fast to change my gameplan quickly as per the situation and the opponent.
Can we say that the time has come to see another Indian at the top of the world rankings in one or two years?
I really can’t give you day, date or time. But I’m sure that I will reach there in the next two to three years. But before that I need to work hard on my game. I have the advantage of height and that’s why smashes are my strength. But my coach (P Gopichand) is working on my defence.
What are your immediate plans?
By the end of this year, I am aiming to be in the top seven. My first aim was to break into the top 10 this year and I have achieved that few weeks back. Though, I slipped back to the No. 12 but am confident that soon I will be back in the top 10 and then want to stay there till the end of 2013. I will take it from there, that’s the realistic goal I have for now.
Is defence your weak point?
Not really. But defence is the area I’ve been working on right now.
Gopi sir keeps talking to me on different aspects of my game after every tournament. In the recent Japan Open, I made too many unforced errors against my Japanese opponent. It’s not like every day that I make unforced errors but certainly I need to cut down on these in order to be consistent in the future.
What have you learnt from playing against Saina Nehwal twice recently during the IBL?
Saina is not just my senior but a great player. She didn’t give me a chance to attack. And when I went to defence, she didn’t give me any chance. She was really aggressive during both the matches and that was a big learning experience for me.
During those matches your coach was not sitting and prompting from the sidelines. Do you feel that not having him around was a disadvantage for a young player like you?
Of course, Gopi sir coaches both of us. Since we both are from his academy, I think it was fair on his part to not be there to help me. But there were other two or three coaches supporting me during those matches.
Did you ever beat Saina during practice matches in academy?
We never played actually. We practice smashes and other things but never really played a practice match in academy.
Can the rise of non-Chinese players be attributed to dwindling talent there?
It’s not that the Chinese are falling away. Rather, I would say that other countries are producing players who can take the Chinese head-on. Thailand’s Ratchanok Inthanon, Germany’s Juliane Schenk or Japan’s Minatsu Mitani have all made the life difficult for the Chinese top players. Saina and I have also been beating the Chinese players. This has raised the bar for even the Chinese shuttlers. Hopefully, this will continue in the future too.