NEW DELHI: He has endured a lacklustre season heading into the Olympics, but ace Indian shuttler K Srikanth today said the low phase has helped him prepare for the Games and he hopes to emerge as the dark horse in Rio next month.
Srikanth had the world at his feet when he became the first Indian to win a Super Series Premier men's title in the 2014 China Open after beating two-time Olympic champion and five-time world champion Lin Dan in the final.
A win at home in the India Super Series was the icing on the cake and propelled him to World No. 3 in June last year but then it all fell apart.
On his journey to Olympic qualification, Srikanth struggled to cross the opening round of the tournaments that he played, especially this year after he won the Syed Modi Grand Prix Gold in January.
However, Srikanth said he was never worried about his Olympic qualification.
"I was tense but not for my qualification, it was my game that I was worried about since I knew if I can play well, I will automatically qualify," Srikanth, currently ranked World No. 11, told PTI.
"I was not worried about my ranking, I was worried because I was not getting time to train. I was playing one event after another whether it was PBL, Malaysia, SAF games, or German Open or ABC, there was simply no time.
"But I think it kind of helped me identify the areas where I need to work on and it helped me in my preparation of Olympics. Every match counts, every tournament counts, whether it is a win or loss, it is all about how you take it. you need to take the positives out of every match you play. So it kind of helped me," he explained.
It was in May when the 23-year-old from Andra Pradesh became one of the seven shuttlers to qualify for the Rio Games after the rankings were released.
"I was happy to qualify. It was a big dream. I knew it but in May to actually officially qualify was a big moment. I hope I can make India proud."
At Rio, the world will turn to the rivalry of Malaysia's Lee Chong Wei and China's Lin Dan as they look for ultimate glory in what might turn out to be swansong Olympics for the two old warhorses and Srikanth said he is happy to be the underdog or a dark horse.
"They are the most experienced players who have played in the last 2-3 Olympics and I think they will have an advantage. But it doesn't help everyone all the time. It can help to get a few close points but then there are so many players who win a tournament or a medal playing for the first time. So it doesn't help always," said the 2013 Thailand Grand Prix Gold champion.
"It is tough for the top players because there are too many expectations and pressure, so I am happy being a dark horse or an underdog," added Srikanth.
Asked if he had followed Olympics as a kid, Srikanth said: "I never watched or followed Olympics as a child. My first memory of Olympics was watching Saina Nehwal play at the Beijing Games quarterfinals.
"It was that moment when I sort of thought that what if I could play at the Olympics someday. Ever since it has been a dream of playing there, every time you see someone play at the Olympics, you want to be there," he added.
Talking about the preparation for Olympics, he said: "It has been a good one and a half month for me. After a long time I could get a necessary break and I really could work on overall aspects of the game. Also Mridu helped us with our mental aspect."
Asked if he feels the pressure, Srikanth said: "I really can't do anything about the expectations. People and well-wishers will always have expectations from you and the only way is to take it positively and not think about it.
"It is only when the media ask me about it, I feel the pressure. I can't complain about it. I have to play there and perform to the best of my ability."
Ahead of the Olympics, many athletes across the globe have pulled out citing Zika virus as the reason.
Asked if he has any similar concern, Srikanth said: "No, it is not a concern. We are following the guidelines that have been issued by the Ministry and I am sure the government is taking all the necessary steps regarding that."