The brilliance of Saina Nehwal’s Swiss Open victory overshadowed one other performer in the Indian team – national champion Sourabh Verma.
While Verma has not yet had the kind of success Saina has had, his career graph already looks impressive. As recently as May 2011, he was in the hinterlands of world badminton, ranked 170. Less than a year later, he has jumped 127 places and is now ranked No.43 – the third highest ranked Indian behind Ajay Jayaram and P Kashyap.
But rankings tell only a part of the story. To see Sourabh in action is to see the guts and gumption of a streetfighter – much of his success is due to a steely, never-say-die mentality that has seen him beat or trouble players ranked way above him. After beating top-ten player Kenichi Tago at the Indian Open last year, he fought tenaciously against Taufik Hidayat in the final of the Syed Modi Memorial GP. This year, during his first stint on the Superseries circuit, he has given enough indication that he is top-ten material himself – for he took the No.2 Dane Jan O Jorgensen to three games at the German Open and beat the upcoming player Wong Wing Ki of Hong Kong. Not blessed with great talent, Sourabh puts a premium on every point, and it is this attitude that saw him beat players ranked way above him in his short international career thus far.
Excerpts from an interview with Dev S Sukumar:
You’ve just finished a part of your first Superseries season. What are your thoughts?
I played well in the last tournament, the Swiss Open. Until then, I was playing well, but I was committing too many errors in the late part of the third game, from 15 or 16 onwards. At both the All England and the German Open, I made the same mistake – I was unsteady towards the end. My strategy in the third game wasn’t right; I should’ve attacked more, and in rallies I would lose the point after two or three shots.
The win against No.19 Wong Wing Ki must be one of your career’s best results, after the win over Kenichi Tago.
For the Swiss Open I studied my videos and realized that I wasn’t focused enough in the late part of the game, such as at 15-all, and I was committing too many unforced errors.
I’d seen Wong at the India Open. He attacks well, and I was trying to not give him an opportunity to attack; to keep pushing and to work around the net. After winning the first game 22-20, I was leading 20-18 in the second, but again the same mistakes happened as I was not focused. The rally would go on and on and I didn’t attack, and he got four straight points. The third game was again close.
You also pushed (No.13) Jan O Jorgensen close at the German Open…
He was fast, and he was using the drives and pushes a lot. He could also rally when he had to. In the first game he was trying to finish the points early, but he was committing mistakes, and so he started rallying a lot more later in the match.
Considering that this was your first Superseries season, did you gain any lessons from your matches?
I learnt a lot from the three matches at the German, All England and Swiss Open. I have to improve my attack and body strength. I hadn’t trained well, so I wasn’t able to finish the rallies with smashes. I will win the next time. There’s a lot to improve.
What effect did winning the national title have on you?
I got a lot more confident about my game. Obviously, the other players will watch you and want to learn from you.
How different is the standard in Indian men’s singles from the Superseries level?
In domestic events, Indian players don’t have a good defence. Indians can be good if we play a lot more tournaments. At the international level, you should be at 100 per cent in every match. Even the early rounds are tough.
You took part in your first Thomas Cup just before the German Open. How was the experience?
I had fever before the Thomas Cup. I played after I recovered a little. I didn’t feel any pressure at all, and I did learn a lot.
Looking at the way you have shot up the rankings, do you have a target for 2012?
I’m not too worried about my rankings. If I play well, the ranking will take care of itself.