The 2019 edition of the India Open -- the premier tournament of the international badminton calendar to be held in India -- is moving house. For the first time since it was awarded Superseries status in 2011, it's moving from New Delhi's Siri Fort Stadium to the KD Jadhav Stadium further north in the city. The new stadium is larger, which means apart from the fact that it seats another thousand spectators, it also negates the drift of the shuttle -- a genuine variable in smaller courts, where streams of air from air-conditioning systems routinely push the lightweight shuttles off course.
Sameer Verma will be looking forward to that aspect in the new venue. It suits his game, built around net play, retrieving and dogged defence. "I've noticed that the bigger the court, the less the drift that I have to deal with. That is good for me," he says.
This is a new-look version of Sameer Verma from the one that showed up at the Siri Fort stadium last year. He isn't troubled any more by the shoulder injury, recovery from which ate up huge chunks of his 2017 season. Indeed, the 2018 India Open, where he reached the quarterfinals, marked the beginning of a remarkable season in which he won two World Tour Super 300 titles (Swiss Open and Syed Modi) and held a match point before losing to World No. 2 Shi Yuqi in the semi-finals of the World Tour Finals. It was a run that saw him improve from World No. 46 in February 2018 to now feature as the second-highest ranked Indian at 14 in the world rankings.
Verma, who has long flown under the radar, is suddenly aware of his rising status. "Even though I have zero expectations from myself, everyone now has a lot of expectations from me. I am more aware of it (the fact that he is the second-highest ranked Indian player in the draw). I'm feeling the pressure of that a little bit already," he admits.
"There are tapes from matches I have won which give me confidence but there is a lot more to learn from the matches which you have lost" Sameer Verma
Verma doesn't have the easiest of draws. He opens against 22-year-old Dane Rasmus Gemke, who has beaten Olympic champion Chen Long this season and has a Super 300 title and a semi-final appearance at the French Open Super 750 last year. B Sai Praneeth, finalist at the Swiss Open last week, could be up next, followed by India No. 1 Kidambi Srikanth in the quarterfinals. But Verma isn't looking that far ahead. It's an aspect of his game he has worked a lot on. "It's a mental part of my game. Sometimes instead of playing the point, you sometimes start thinking of what could happen in the future. In the past, I would be hurrying between my shots. Especially in close matches, I would be thinking of the point ahead. Dimaag tez bhaagta tha (my mind would run fast and get ahead of itself). I would be thinking of what would happen after I won the match. How would it be to win the match instead of just focusing on the point," he says.
Verma admits he could improve even more. He held match points against eventual winner Shi in the World Tour Finals and was a game up and 17-17 against eventual finalist Viktor Axelsen in the first round of the All England Championships earlier this month.
Verma says he knows the difference the change in mentality can make simply by observing what one of his opponents -- World Champion Kento Momota -- does. Momota was only still making his return from a lengthy ban for betting when he lost to Verma in straight games at the Swiss Open last year. A few months later, he returned the favour, beating the Indian 21-18, 21-6. The big difference was how he approached both the games, says Verma. "In Switzerland he was hurrying his shots and trying to finish off the match quickly. Then at the World Tour Finals, he was taking his time. He was playing each point on its own," he says.
Verma watches tape from that match as a reminder to himself. "There are tapes from matches which I have won which give me confidence but there is a lot more to learn from the matches which you have lost," he says.
With a day to go before his opening match in New Delhi, Verma is hoping to apply all the right lessons on court. "There is no guarantee of winning every time you come on court but I know that as long as I play to my potential I have confidence I will do well," he says.