It won’t be a sweeping statement to make if one suggests that shuttler Sourabh Verma is enjoying the best phase of his international career. The Indian men’s singles player is riding a ‘new high’ after reaching a career-high singles ranking of 28. The Madhya Pradesh lad had finished runners-up at the Syed Modi International besides clinching three singles titles - IDBI Federal Life Insurance Hyderabad Open, Yonex-Sunrise Vietnam Open and Slovenia International series. For someone, who made his senior international debut some eight years back (2011 to be precise), not many can actually dispute the fact that the year 2019 has been one of Sourabh’s best international runs ever over a sustained period of time.
And India’s fourth highest-ranked men’s singles player attributes his stupendous run this year to a huge focus on his fitness. “If I have to pick one reason – I think it has to be my improved fitness levels that have enabled me to play the game I’m capable of. I have also learnt to adapt to different playing conditions be it in India or abroad. For instance, I won the Hyderabad Open and Vietnam Open and the playing conditions in both these tourneys were such that I had to play a strong net and attacking game since the shuttle speed was fast,” gushes Sourabh, who is just a few days away from celebrating his 27th birthday.
Employed with ONGC, the world number 28 shuttler is focussed on staying injury-free since this is the pre-Olympic year. “Many of us, including me, are competing for the country’s two Olympic spots. So, it is important that I play as many as tournaments and win matches consistently and at the same time ensure injuries don’t bog me down.”
The shuttler wants to up his overall game so that he can beat the world’s top players on a regular basis. “It’s okay to have your natural game unless you have a robust overall game, wherein you are solid in attack, defence, and at the net, you can’t harbour aspirations of beating top players,” he makes his point.
Over the years, injuries have been a dampener on Sourabh’s career as there have been many occasions when he had to stay away from the court. “I’m learning to deal with injuries better. I remember the year 2015 when I did not play almost the whole year owing to an elbow fracture and save for featuring in the Tata Open in December (my only tourney in 2015). I never experienced such a big injury lay-off,” he quips. This year, the improved fitness levels of Sourabh came to the fore as he skirted many injury issues and featured in as many as twelve tournaments.
Sourabh has some ‘healthy competition’ going with his younger brother Sameer Verma, who is ranked 33 in the world – the elder sibling brushes aside any talk of fierce rivalry. “We help each other out game-wise, in terms of watching each other’s matches and offering inputs on improvements area. I don’t recall the exact number of head-to-head matches with Sameer because there are quite a lot of them – the only two I remember is the 2015 Tata Open final and the 2016 Senior Nationals final and on both occasions, Sameer got the better of me,” says Sourabh, who won his first international crown in 2011, bagging the Bahrain International Challenge.
The world badminton is witnessing the invincible run of Japan’s Kento Momota – many of the top players are finding the current world number one a tough nut to crack. Sourabh offers his assessment. “I think Momota possesses a strong overall game – he is so good at the net as well as in attack and defence – any opponent would have to be really patient and keep the shuttle in play for long periods and maintain high levels of concentration to prevail over him.”
Indian badminton enjoys a massive reputation globally – the country has as many eight men’s singles players and two women singles players in the top-50. “Globally, Indian badminton is seen in very good health – having so many players in the top-50 means our shuttlers are no less than world’s top players,” says Sourabh, who in his spare time likes to hang out with his friends. “I unwind by eating out with friends – I like chicken dishes as well as prawns, among others,” says the three-time senior national champion.
Sourabh will be next seen in action at the upcoming 2020 Perodua Malaysian Masters as well as in a tourney in Indonesia. One hopes that Sourabh can build on his consistent run of 2019 and seals his 2020 Tokyo Olympics berth.