Anup Sridhar credits his recent winat the All-India senior nationalbadminton tournament tochanges in his playing style

During the final years of his stellar National Basketball Association (NBA) career, power forward Chris Webber found that he was unable to play with the same ease as when he was younger. Years of injury left him handicapped, and this forced him to reinvent his game.

The answer lay in using his vast experience to gain a complete understanding of his playing style, and then only using the techniques which continue to be effective. Webber began to employ his go-to move — the double-pump fake on the post, which left his defenders unsettled, with subtle changes in feet movement. The result: he remained a high-performer until he hung up his boots.

A similar scenario has played out with Anup Sridhar, a three-time national badminton champion (2004 to 2006). Sridhar was once the top-dog, reaching a impressive career-best world ranking of 24 in 2008. Frequent injuries, however, stalled his run. It quickly became apparent to him that it was time for an overhaul.

The 30-year-old, who has lost a step or two over the years, more than makes up for it through other means. This was on display in his recent triumphant campaign at the Canara Bank All-India senior national badminton tournament — his first title in a few years. Sridhar — a towering presence at well over six-feet - prowled the net to use his wide reach, collecting plenty of easy smashes. The Bangalorean is also quick to place the shuttle in an empty spot on the court, which leaves even his youngest rivals exhausted.

Sridhar is no stranger to championship wins, but this victory is special. “I had not won a title for a while, so this win has given me a new lease of life. I have suffered one injury after another in the past few years—right foot, left foot, shoulder...,” he says.

The seasoned pro talks about how he changed his playing style to defeat the top-seed, Saurabh Varma, in the final. “Usually, I would go all-out on attack mode. But with Varma, I stayed patient and waited for the loose shot, because he is quite adept at returning smashes. That would have tired me out. I'm not 20 years old anymore.”

Sridhar has also had to adapt to the frenetic pace at which badminton is played now. When he started out, the sport was all about guile, while now, brute power has taken over.

“You no longer see the traditional type of singles play. Everyone in India is now physically fit, everyone can smash, everyone can return smashes, and long rallies are sustained at high intensity. Slow rallies, high serves – these things no longer exist. I have had to be smart about it, and adapt accordingly.”

While the mind and strategy do play important roles, such physically-intense matches also calls for peak fitness. Having endured his fair share of breakdowns in the past, Sridhar is wary of exerting himself too much. He trains with veteran coach Tom John at the Tom’s Academy; the emphasis is on finding the “right balance.” “Training with Tom has made a big difference. The sessions are short and demanding. It is hard, but Tom understands that I am not young anymore. He makes sure I don’t overdo it.”

During the conversation, it becomes clear that Sridhar is aware that his age does pose a few obstacles.

What goes through his mind, when he takes the court against younger rivals, who are sometimes only in their teens? “Sometimes, I wonder why I’m still playing badminton! But wins like the one I had recently leads me to believe I am doing something right.”

ASHWIN ACHAL

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