‘MY FOCUS IS ON PLAYING, WILL DO COACHING WHEN THE TIME COMES’ - The Daily Guardian
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‘MY FOCUS IS ON PLAYING, WILL DO COACHING WHEN THE TIME COMES’

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Savita Punia is known as the great wall of the Indian Hockey team. She earned this title after her phenomenal performance in the Summer Olympics 2020. Savita Punia had an exclusive conversation with The Daily Guardian Review. Excerpts:

Q. From battling eve-teasers in the bus to guarding India’s goal-post at the Tokyo Olympics to climbing up to the best 6th position in FIH World Rankings. How does it feel and what sweat and blood does it take?

A. It took so long, it has been a long journey with a lot of hard work, with a lot of people’s support; including my family, coaches, and teammates. A lot of hard work of my own. It took a bit to understand how much it matters to me, but now that I have understood hockey is the thing that matters the most. I am ready to do more hard work, I just have to make my parents proud. At that time I understood how important a goalkeeper’s role is. Of course, it is a proud moment, but when you have a grid that much, it feels better, “I have worked this much and it has paid off”. For me the respect that my parents have for me matters the most, a child wants nothing more than that; that is a reason for your parent’s happiness, and for me, that is the biggest achievement.

Q. What does individual recognition mean to you?

A. For me, the biggest recognition is what my team gives me, that they should call me proudly that I am their goalkeeper, if she plays then we have different confidence. I never liked or needed the limelight, but inside the helmet, I felt the most confident because I was camera-shy. But when you perform well it gives you more confidence and motivation. It has been a long journey full of ups and downs, injuries, and sacrifices but I love playing hockey. The more experience a goalkeeper has, the more they enjoy it confidently. Maybe my coach decided to proceed to be best, at that time I didn’t like the decision much though but it has given me a different identity. The goalkeeper has a really big role to play, I learned that from my senior goalkeepers. I never thought that I would be given this much fame and limelight. The more training and experience a goalkeeper has the more fun it is, “ Utna hi maza aata hai”.

Q. What preparations are being done for World Cup?

A. I think we are training in the right direction, both individually and as a team, our coach is the biggest reason behind it. Each training session is very hard and in the right way, it makes us fulfil, and that builds confidence, makes us ready for the tournament more. We’ll give our best and go match by match.

Q. You shy away from the spotlight. But when Rani Rampal was in rehabilitation, did this add more responsibility as a senior player?

A. I think yes, I think this responsibility was there from the very start. Rani and I have been very close and supported each other. Her comeback is a very good thing, we know a senior player’s presence is very important, and they give a lot of energy to the young player. When you are a senior player, you have more responsibilities. If I do my work nicely as an individual player directly that automatically helps a team.

Q. You are now 31. Not many women hockey players in the country play over the age of 30. What motivates you to continue?

A. First of all my family, because of them, I’m here. Maybe I could be an example for the people in the future, because where hockey is now today, and for what I have worked so hard and I’m still fit so there is a no reason to quit. I question myself often, and the answer is always that if I can perform more, then I should play. My team and coaching staff are supportive. Even after marriage why cannot I play? Why this wrong mindset? I would play after the marriage too, if my family can be supportive so can my in-laws too, I’m sure I would be able to make them proud too. Nobody wants to quit, but when you have earned respect by playing and you know you can play more than you should not stop, age does not matter.

Q. You were offered a coaching role with the Sports Authority of India. Is coaching your next calling?

A. My main focus is on playing, will do coaching when the time comes. The things that I know of, I would be very happy to pass that to the new players.

Q. India lost the bronze medal match at FIH Junior Women’s World Cup. Was it sheer bad luck or did you see some loopholes.

A. I think it was bad luck, the team was on the right track and training in the right direction. We were more confident than the team itself because they were playing hockey very well. I think you can always learn from defeat; it gave us the lessons for the next matches. Every player was so fine in their role, so it was bad luck. I believe it takes time to recover but our defeat teaches you a lot, which helps you in the future.

Q. India will be facing off against Belgium in a double-header in away games on 11 June 2022 and 12 June. At the same time, the FIH Women’s Hockey Pro League and FIH Women’s World Cup are coming up. So are we ready to give a strong game to the opponents and how?

A. Yes, we are ready. As a senior team player, I can tell we are on the right track and we are working so hard, everyone is very ready and excited to play in the tournament.

Q. What is your hockey philosophy and how did you develop it? Is there an ideal form for how you want your team to play hockey? Or do you rather look to adapt to the players you have?

A. I think we had seen both bad and good times, with so many ups and downs. A player’s life is very unpredictable, sometimes too flourishes not so, injuries are a part too. Jenneke’s standard is too high, she expects the same from us, so it makes us push ourselves even more. She never gives up and we have learned it from her.

When your mind tells you that you have to push more so automatically your body does the double work, that is what we have learned from her. We will not give up in upcoming matches and give our best till the last moment.

For us, performance matters more than the result itself. As a team, if we perform well then, the result will also be well.

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Rafael Nadal survives first round scare

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Competing on grass for the first time since 2019, Rafael Nadal stepped up to reach the Wimbledon second round for the 14th time on Tuesday. The Spaniard showcased his trademark fighting spirit to overcome a tricky test from Francisco Cerundolo, advancing 6-4, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 after three hours and 36 minutes. In front of a packed crowd on Centre Court, Nadal survived a mid-match comeback from the Argentine, who was making his debut at the Championships. After winning the first two sets, the 36-year-old suddenly found himself a break down in the fourth set.

However, with the pressure on, Nadal raised his intensity and increased his depth on return to regain control and improve to 31-3 on the season.

The second seed is seeking a record-extending 23rd Grand Slam title, having won the first two majors of the year for the first time in his career. He will face Ricardas Berankis in the second round after the Lithuanian defeated Sam Querrey 6-4, 7-5, 6-3.

In an eye-catching Wimbledon debut, Maxime Cressy’s rapid rise continued. Relying on the serve-and-volley game that dominated the All England Lawn Tennis Club for much of its history, the World No. 45 earned his first Top 10 win by defeating Felix Auger-Aliassime with a near-perfect serving performance.

In a 6-7(5), 6-4, 7-6(9), 7-6(5) victory, Cressy charged the net 134 times, winning 71 per cent (95/134) of those points. In a match of fine margins, both players dominated on serve. The American saved the lone break point he faced — at 5-5 in the opening set — while sixth seed Auger-Aliassime saved three of four.

Now 7-4 on the grass at tour-level, Cressy advances to face qualifier Jack Sock in the second round after his countryman earned a 7-6(6), 6-4, 6-4 win against Bernabe Zapata Miralles earlier in the day. Elsewhere, Stefanos Tsitsipas struggled to find his groove for much of his match against Swiss qualifier Alexander Ritschard at Wimbledon, but the fourth seed’s resilience was enough to complete a 7-6(1), 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 first-round victory at the grass-court major.

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SAHIL TAVORA INKS NEW DEAL, EXTENDS STAY WITH HYDERABAD FC

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After his heroics in the 2021-22 Indian Super League final, midfielder Sahil Tavora has signed a new deal with Hyderabad FC to extend his stay at the club till the end of the 2023-24 season, the club announced on Tuesday.

Speaking after signing his extension, Tavora explained what made this decision pretty easy. “The progress the team as a whole and I as a player have made over the last two years under Coach Manolo Marquez was a major factor in me deciding to extend my contract here,” said the Goa-born midfielder.

Tavora, who famously scored the 88th minute equalizer in the ISL final back in March, was a key player for Hyderabad throughout the campaign.

He made 19 appearances for the club and registered a goal and an assist from midfield, often coming off the bench to change the tone of the game.

And it is no surprise that Manolo Marquez was all smiles after Tavora put pen to paper. “Tavora is a crucial player in our squad. But more importantly, he is a player who every coach wants to train,” said the Spaniard.

“He is technically good, is very strong in duels, can shoot from distance and is also a leader in the squad, on and off the pitch,” he added.

With experience of 45 ISL games (31 for HFC) under his belt and now a Champions’ medal on his neck, Tavora, who has been a part of Hyderabad FC since its inception says, “The family like atmosphere not just between the players but also with the technical and non-technical staff makes it a pleasure to work day in day out.”

One of the few players in the current squad to have played in front of a packed Gachibowli Stadium, Tavora also had a message for the fans.

“I’ve been lucky enough to already play in front of our fans in Gachibowli in the first season. We missed them tremendously and really appreciated their support on social media. The atmosphere they create in the stadium is incredible, and I can’t wait to be back and play in front of them again,” he added.

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SINDHU DEFEATS CHOCHUWONG, SAINA NEHWAL CRASHES OUT

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Star India shuttler P.V. Sindhu produced a stunning win over Thailand’s world no. 10 Pornpawee Chochuwong to advance into the second round of the Malaysia Open tournament on Wednesday in Kuala Lumpur.

Star India shuttler P.V. Sindhu.

Playing on Court 2, Sindhu came through a tough test against Thailand’s Pornpawee Chochuwong in straight games. Seventh-seeded Sindhu dominated Chochuwong in both games 21-13, 21-17. The Indian got off to a great start in the first game and clinched the game with her swift moves. The second game of the match saw Chochuwong fighting back but could not hold Sindhu’s attacks longer and crashed out of the tournament.

India’s double pair B. Sumeeth Reddy and Ashwini Ponnappa, couldn’t get past the world no. 21 pairing of Robin Tabeling and Selena Piek of the Netherlands. The Indian duo went down by 15-21, 21-19 17-21 after a 52-minute battle.

Meanwhile, it was a bad day for the 2012 London Olympic bronze medallist Saina Nehwal, who suffered a defeat against American Iris Wang 11-21, 17-21 in 37 minutes.

Earlier, India’s H.S. Prannoy started off his Malaysia Open 2022 campaign with a win over the Malaysian Liew Daren in the first round. Playing in court 1, the Indian won his match by margin of 21-14, 17-21, 21-18. Prannoy got off a good start, winning the first game. His Malaysian counterpart bounced back to win the second game, but Prannoy won the closely contested last game by 21-18 to seal the match.

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I AM VERY EXCITED ABOUT THE MATCH AGAINST RACHATA KHAOPHIMAI: NEERAJ GOYAT

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Ahead of The Fighter Thailand World Boxing Series on July 2, 2022, The Daily Guardian Review spoke to renowned Indian boxer Neeraj Goyat who holds many records. He became the first Indian boxer to have made it in top 20 to WBC World Rankings, won WBC Asia “Honorary Boxer of the year” in 2017 and has won many matches for India.

Q: So, Neeraj you started boxing in 2006 right, can you tell us how this journey started and what kind of challenges were before you?

A: Yes, the journey of boxing started in 2006 and before that I was very good in basketball and athletic running, I was very good in 800m, 1000m and 1500 meters race. And after that in 2006 I got selected in Army Sports Institute, so boxing was everything over there. After starting boxing, I was the weakest boxer there, weak in the sense that the boxer with the least level of performance was me. So, at that time I decided that I have to be the best within a couple of years. 2006-07 was the struggling period in which I used to do three times training in a day. The coaches used to train twice in the morning and in the evening. During the day I used to go for training before lunch and used to do training on Sundays and went to the boxing hall at night time also.

Q: If we talk about your achievements, you won the title of “India’s most promising boxer” in 2008, you are the first Indian boxer to have made it to WBC World Rankings (Ranked 20), Also you won award of WBC Asia “Honorary Boxer of the year” in 2017 and that’s great; so what would you like to say about these big achievements of your boxing career?

A: If I talk about achievements, then I have achieved a lot in Amateur boxing and professional boxing but there is still a lot left. I got the award of Most Promising Boxer, was a national champion in Amateur boxing, played in competition like Olympic qualifier. After that, I was also the Asian Champion of WBC in professional boxing and I also got the award for that and in view of the same thing, today I have been made the brand ambassador of WBC India. So, these are good achievements but many other things have to be achieved. My goal is to bring India to the world level in professional boxing like people have started knowing Philippines because of Manny Pacquiao. Similarly, India should also get such recognition because of me, and I work hard for that.

Q: Neeraj, who has been your role model; who has inspired you the most?

A: The one who inspires me in boxing and has been my role model is Vasiliy Lomachenko, who is from Ukraine and Olympic champion in 2008 and 2012. And after coming to professional boxing, he also became the World Champion. His style of play is completely different and it is a lot of fun to watch his game. So, I always try to play like him.

Q: When did you play the toughest match of your entire boxing career?

A: Till date the worst match in my entire career or can say that the toughest match that I have played was in Mexico in 2018. The day I reached there, I had a fight in the evening and the weight of that boxer was more than me and it was a challenge for me. There was a six round fight and if I tell you, it was a brutal match. I was winning one sided in that fight but Mexicans are tough, very tough to fight. Most tough professional boxers in the whole world are from Mexico. So, my fight was such that in 5th, 6th round I was winning that fight but whatever punch he was hitting me was just to knockout, and I prayed to God while fighting. Ultimately, I lost that fight by split decision, but if that fight was somewhere else instead of Mexico, I would have won that fight. But it was really tough, his punches were hard. So, the toughest fight of my entire career till date has been the same in Mexico.

Q: Neeraj, I would like to ask that how the 2019 car accident affected your game and what kind of difficulties did you face after that accident?

A: Before my accident in 2019, that year started very well, my fight with Aamir Khan was announced, after that my press tour was going on, all those things were going smoothly but around 26-27 days before the fight I had an accident. Although, nothing much happened in the accident and I had a hairline fracture in my hand due to which it took me 2 months to recover. That was a very bad time for me and after that Corona started in 2020. That fight was to be held again but it could not. So that was a very tough time for me, but all these things and incidents take place in people’s lives, even much bigger than this. And I have fought again even after that accident and have won. So now everything is fine.

Q: How excited are you for the Thailand World Boxing series and what would you like to say about your preparation for the match?

A: I am very excited about this match which is going to be in Bangkok against the Thailand’s boxer Rachata Khaophimai. He has good records in professional boxing so many people are supposed to come for this match and it will be such a great match for me. Currently I am in London and my preparation is going on very well.

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HOODA’S MAIDEN TON POWERS INDIA TO 227/7 AGAINST IRELAND IN 2ND T20

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DUBLIN: Maiden century by Deepak Hooda (104) and his 176-run stand with Sanju Samson (77) guided India to a massive 227/7 against Ireland in the second and final T20I of the series at The Village in Dublin on Tuesday.

Samson and Hooda smashed the Irish bowlers all over the park. Though a mini-collapse took place for India after the duo were dismissed, the Ireland bowlers did not have much to be positive about at the end of the innings. Batting first, India were not off a good start, losing Ishan Kishan for just 3 after he was dismissed by medium-pacer Mark Adair with help from wicketkeeper-batter Lorcan Tucker.

This brought Deepak Hooda to the crease, who joined the opener Sanju Samson.

The duo went for some big hits and maintained some good running between the wickets. At the end of the powerplay in six overs, India was at 54/1 with Hooda (26*) and Samson (24*).

The duo soon reached their 50-run partnership. The duo switched their gears after this, punishing Irish bowlers more. Hooda brought up his maiden fifty in just 27 balls.

At the end of 10 overs, India stood at 97/1 with Hooda (50*) and Samson (42*). The ninth and tenth over bowled by Gareth Delany and Andy McBrine went for 15 and 16 runs respectively.

The duo brought their 100-run stand in just 55 balls. Samson also brought up his first T20I fifty in 31 balls.

Between 10-15 overs, the duo brutalised the Irish attack, getting 80 runs within these five overs. Hooda in general was more dominant as a batter.

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DJOKOVIC FORCED TO FOUR SETS IN OPENER, NORRIE ALSO MAKES WINNING START

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In the first match of the Wimbledon on Centre Court, defending champion Novak Djokovic recorded his 80th Wimbledon match victory with a win over South Korea’s Soonwoon Kwon on Monday.

The Serbian becomes the first player, man or woman, to record 80 singles victories across each of all four Grand Slam tournaments. The world no. 3 maintained a solid level in his 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory against the World No. 81. Yet Kwon’s aggressive tactics meant Djokovic was never completely comfortable in his first tour-level match since his Roland Garros quarter-final on May 31.

The win extends Djokovic’s unbeaten run at Wimbledon to 22 matches. The Serbian is hunting a fourth consecutive crown at the third major of the year in London, and his second tour-level title of 2022 after he triumphed at the Italian Open in May.

The South Korean was a break up in each of the first two sets and pumped up the Centre Court crowd after he levelled proceedings at a set apiece, but Djokovic’s trademark consistency proved enough to complete a two-hour, 27-minute victory.

The top seed will face Thanasi Kokkinakis or Kamil Majchrzak in the second round at SW19, where he now holds an 80-10 record. The World No. 3 is chasing his seventh title at Wimbledon, a tally that would draw him level with legendary American Pete Sampras and move him within one of record-holder Roger Federer’s eight crowns.

Elsewhere, Cameron Norrie, the British No.9 seed, made a flying start in his 6-0, 7-6(3), 6-3 victory over Pablo Andujar on No.2 Court.

The 26-year-old left-hander romped through the first set for the loss of just 11 points, in 23 one-sided minutes.The veteran Spaniard, who is 10 years Norrie’s senior, forced a tie-break in the second set but was always chasing the match in the third.

Tantalisingly, the play was suspended with the score at deuce in what proved to be the final game. Norrie, who achieved his best result at Wimbledon last year when he reached the third round, will face another Spaniard, Jaume Munar, in the second round.

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