To win even when you aren’t at your best takes a lot of doing. Tell us about it.
Absolutely. I had to dig really deep all through this competition. I made some unforced errors in the matches, but I did not give up. And to win on days when you aren’t playing your best is a very good thing. It gives you a lot of confidence and satisfaction. There were some very long matches, long rallies, and I am happy I was able to pull it off. When you play for India at multi-disciplinary games, there is always that extra incentive. I wanted to win it badly. To get another opportunity at another final to do something for your country is quite extraordinary. In that sense this medal is very sweet.
Playing back-to-back matches within 16 hours isn’t easy. Can you describe how you pushed yourself to get out that last little reserve of fuel to win?
It was another very tough week. Like I said, there were really long rallies and it was no different in some of the earlier matches also. It was a question of fitness and temperament. Both of us (Sindhu and Michelle Li) were pushing each other. We knew it was a question of the last one standing. There were some very tough moments also. But that’s sport for you. It tests you, pushes you hard. And that’s why you play sports.
You dedicated the victory to the fans and the people of India.
The kind of support I received from people back home and my fans here was overwhelming. Did you see the crowd here each time I played? Everyone I met wished me luck and said I had to win. To be able to do it for them has given me a lot of satisfaction. They help make the sport what it is, and I am grateful for all the support and affection I receive from my fans and from people back home.
After the 2016 Rio Olympics, things have changed dramatically for you. In Rio it was the Michelle Li match that changed it all. And here it was Li again in the final.
It was a very different match. And life has changed so much after Rio. Having said that, I haven’t changed. There are endorsements, media engagements, sponsor commitments and a lot of other things which weren’t there before Rio. It is a very different life. I can’t just go out anymore and do things like I used to do. But that’s fine. I am aware that people love me because I have done them proud. I play badminton and that’s my identity. So, all I want to do is keep playing well, winning more and more for my country. Rest will take care of itself. The next goal will be to do well in the Asian Games next year, and of course Paris 2024. When you see the tricolour go up there is nothing that can match that feeling. I want to see that happen in Paris 2024.