A little more than a year ago, Indians used to virtually shiver whenever they found themselves drawn against the Chinese in international badminton tournaments.
But Saina Nehwal’s big climb in world badminton has removed a lot of that fear, says P.C. Thulasi, the senior national women’s runner-up.
“Earlier, even before we play the Chinese, we knew we would lose. We thought it was impossible to beat them. Now, things have changed a lot, Saina has showed us the way,” says the 18-year-old from Kerala.
“Now, I think we have at least a 30 to 40 per cent chance of beating the Chinese. We have to work harder for the other 60 to 70 per cent.”
With the seventh-ranked Saina far above the other Indians in the world rankings, how does it feel for the other players when they face her in the national circuit? Does the mind go blank?
“I see Saina more as an inspiration, it would be inspiring to play her,” says Thulasi, a first year B.Com student of Thrissur’s St. Joseph’s College. “We have a lot of respect for her; she has brought badminton so far. And no, the mind doesn’t go blank.”
Thulasi now plans to try out the things Saina did.
“Saina has been focusing fully on the international circuit the last two years. Now, I want to play in a maximum number of international tournaments to get ranking points.”
Getting into the senior circuit means gaining more power and speed, says the young girl who is also the junior national runner-up. “It’s more of a power game, lot of smashes, faster drop shots and a lot of variety in strokes.”
In attacking mode
Thulasi was a girl who used the rallies a lot earlier, almost to the point of being defensive, but she is attacking more these days.
It fetched rich rewards at the senior national in Indore in February where the unseeded Kerala girl packed off the top-seeded Neha Pandit of Maharashtra before losing to Air India’s Sayali Gokhale in the final.
“That performance has given me a lot of confidence. I’m now doing a lot of weight training and speed work, both in my strokes and a lot of running too at the National camp in Hyderabad to toughen up,” says the young girl who was moulded into a champion player by Kerala Sports Council coach M.J. Mohanachandran after he spotted her at a ten-day camp at the Railway Institute in Palakkad five years ago.
Her dad T.V. Prasanthan shifted his residence from Palakkad to Thrissur and rented a house close to the V.K.N. Menon indoor stadium, where Mohanachandran coached, so that Thulasi could pursue the sport where she showed a lot of promise.
Within a year, she became the under-13 national champion, two years later she wore the sub-junior national crown.
“My next goal is to win the Senior National title and then… the big ones,” she says.