After two back-to-back bronze medals at the World Championships in 2013 and 2014, expectations were really high of Hyderabad shuttler PV Sindhu last year, but a stress fracture in the left foot saw her sitting at the sidelines and missing out on important events like the All England Badminton Championships.
Sindhu made a comeback in the second half of 2015. A runners-up finish at the Denmark Open and third consecutive title at the Macau Open at the end of the year sparkled her otherwise sedate season.
And the World No. 12 has begun the current year by helping her team - Chennai Smashers - reach the semi-finals of the just-concluded Premier Badminton League (PBL) – the precursor to Rio Olympics build-up events.
Talking to IBNLive, the 20-year-old shuttler feels the competition will be more intense in the Olympic year, but she is confident of qualifying for the Rio Games, scheduled to be held from August 5-21.
Speaking at the sidelines of the PBL final in the Capital on Sunday, Sindhu shared her Olympic hopes and plans.
"It’s an Olympic year and my preparations are on. I know it's not going to be an easy ride. I have to play well in all build-up events in order to qualify through my world rankings. I am playing in Malaysia this week and then at the Syed Modi tournament in Lucknow a week after that. I hope I do my best," she said.
Not more than two shuttlers from one country can qualify in an Olympic event provided they are in top-16 by the deadline of May 5 (for which the competitions from May 4, 2015, to May 1, 2016, will be taken into account) . Saina Nehwal, being world No. 2, is most likely to make the Olympics. Sindhu, as of now, is within the qualification bracket, and she has to stay there till the deadline is over.
Describing the year gone by as tough, she said the title near the end of the year gave her the much-needed boost. "2015 was a difficult year for me since I was recovering from an injury. Once I regained my fitness, I really played well. I was really satisfied after ending the year with the Macau Open title. I wish to continue the same form and do well this year."
Sindhu spoke highly of the PBL, saying that playing alongside world's top shuttlers was a motivation for the upcoming players.
"World's top players, like Malaysian Le Chong Wei and Indonesian Tommy Sugiarto, were playing here. Each has different kind of stroke play and style; the youngsters can learn a lot by watching them. It is a very good motivation for all the upcoming players in junior and senior level.
"I think the PBL was a good team event. It set a very different atmosphere and that too in a very short period. We have seen ties, including the final, where we saw some fiercely-contested matches."
Delhi Acers won the title, beating Mumbai Rockets 4-2 in a thrilling title clash. Neither Sindhu nor Saina's team - the Awadhe Warriors - could reach the final. In fact, Saina was upset by an unfancied Chinese Han Li in her second and last match in the league.
Sindhu says the format of the ties made the PBL an exciting affair.
"Yes, it’s true that neither my nor Saina's team reached the final, and that too when it is an Olympic year and people expected us to play extremely well. But then Delhi and Mumbai players played really well. Plus it's an team event. There are men's singles, men's doubles and mixed doubles matches; and you have to perform well in all of them. Individual performance made little difference," she said.
Sindhu said that the concept of a trump match, where an individual used to get two points if he wins and minus one if he loses, made the PBL ties go down the wire.
"The concept of a trump match was also very unique because it saw the flow of ties changing very quickly and many of the evenly-balanced matches ended one-sided because of it."