New Delhi: Around one-and-half-year back, a trip to India turned out to be forgettable affair for Indonesian ace shuttler Tommy Sugiarto as he sustained a foot injury during the 2014 Thomas and Uber Cup in the Capital, missed out on action for four months and slipped from world top-5 ranking to outside 10. But the 27-year-old wiped out bitter memories with unforgettable experience at the just-concluded Premier Badminton League (PBL), where he remained unbeaten and played a pivotal role in taking his team - the Delhi Acers - to the title.
His victories were no mean feats as in one of them he upset Malaysian great and a two-time Olympic silver medallist Lee Chong-Wei, who was playing for the Hyderabad Hunters. In the final last week, Sugiarto beat Mumbai Warriors’ HS Prannoy at a crucial juncture when Delhi had lost their first match.
Sugiarto, son of 1983 world champion Icuk, rates his performance in the PBL high and says it will spur him on for the Rio Olympics, scheduled to be held in the Brazilian City from August 5-21.
“The PBL provided me a good practice platform in the beginning of an Olympic year. It gave me good experience, motivation and a will to improve ahead of the Rio Games. I enjoyed my stay in India because our Delhi team-mates shared a great camaraderie between them,” he told IBNLive.
Sugiarto, a 2014 World Championships bronze medallist and a world No. 11, has to stay in top-16 by the deadline of May 5 in order to have direct qualification for the Rio Olympics. The Indonesian wants to carry forward his PBL form into the upcoming tournaments.
“It’s an Olympic year and everybody wants to be in the bracket of direct qualification. I also have to play really well to maintain my world ranking. There are a lot of tournaments lined up before the deadline of Rio Olympics. I just want to keep my focus on Olympic qualification and try to continue my form into the upcoming events,” the Indonesia said.
The PBL saw intense competition between the players and a lot of upsets during the 10-day tournament. When asked whether he will be able to replicate his PBL form into the mainstream tournaments, Sugiarto said. “I don’t differentiate between a Super Series tournament and a league. In a league I have to give my 100 per cent as it benefits my team. In a tournament also I have to give my best as it boosts my individual rankings. The main thing is to keep winning anywhere you play,” he said.
Coming from a nation, which is the most successful country after China with 21 gold medals at the World Championships, Sugiarto has seen many world and Olympic champions coming from his country. He, however, doesn’t underestimate Indian shuttlers as he feels they have made quick progress in the recent past.
“There is a lot of improvement in Indian badminton, especially in last five years. Saina Nehwal among women and Kidambi Srikanth among men have achieved some notable feats in the last couple of years. Leagues like the PBL are also helping local shuttlers as their confidence is boosted quite a few notches when they beat higher-ranked international players,” Sugiarto reckoned.
Does he feel the pressure of being the son of a world champion as expectations are high every time he steps on to the count? Sugiarto replied: “There is no such burden because I train hard. Expectations are high but the only way to not feel pressure is to keep performing well and I always try to do that. My father’s advice helps me during the tournament. He also has high expectations of me and wants to see me become a world champion one day.”
During his stay in India, while badminton remained on his priority list, Sugiarto relished his favourite Indian dishes - chicken tikka masala and chicken tandoori. He also wanted to visit his favourite Indian monument, the Taj Mahal, in Agra but his commitment to sports didn’t give him time to do that.
However, he excelled in his sport and his victory over Chong Wei, who is also a three-time World Championships runners-up, was talk of the town. Sugiarto recovered from a set down to notch up the win against the Malaysian.
“I was playing against him after a long time," he recalled. "I was trailing after the first game, but I didn’t think that I was playing against a player ranked much higher than me. I told myself to keep focusing on the game and rest of the things fell in place.”
And while laying his hands on an Olympic gold and the World Championships trophy are on his wish list, Sugiarto wants to train Indonesian youngsters once he hangs up his boots.
“Every badminton player plays to be the world and Olympic champion. My aim is also the same and I know it’s not easy. But I also want to prepare world-class shuttlers in Indonesia.
"I want to open an academy once my badminton career is over. Indonesia has talented budding players, who, if given the right kind training, can be world or Olympic champions; and I want to see that day,” he conclude.