Rajiv Ouseph heads for Paris on a high
New York: The days when Rajiv Ouseph`s mum used to drive him and his two sisters to local badminton events are past but all the effort has not been in vain.
Far from it as Ouseph, newly crowned US Open victor and English champion for the last three years, heads for the world championships in Paris next week on an all-time high.
World-ranked a career-best 18 after victory in Los Angeles, the 23-year-old is eyeing a last-16 encounter with world number one Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia.
Heady stuff, but Ouseph well recalls the old days after his father introduced him to the game and his mother provided the unofficial taxi service.
"Mum is the only one out of us who didn`t play but when we were younger she was the one who used to have to drive us around everywhere," he told Reuters in an interview near their west London home.
"Now I think she`s pretty pleased me and my sisters learned how to drive quite early so she didn`t have to take us around as much."
A bold show in Paris would boost English badminton with the Commonwealth Games looming and the London Olympics on home ground in 2012. It would likely cause joy also in India where Ouseph`s parents were born.
Ouseph visits his family in Thrissur in Kerala from time to time and has also trained in Bangalore under Indian great Prakash Padukone, All England champion in 1980.
Inevitably, Indian eyes of late have been turned on 20-year-old Saina Nehwal who has jumped to number two in the women`s world rankings.
"I don`t know her personally but I`ve been watching her play," said Ouseph. "You struggle not to notice her because she`s won the last couple of tournaments in the Super Series.
"She`s playing really well at the moment. I think she`s a probably really heavy favourite to win the gold and if she does win I think that will be good for the country."
Ouseph`s immediate task is the world championships where he has to deal first with Dutchman Eric Pang before a projected meeting with Jan Jorgensen, the Dane who relegated him to bronze at the European championships in April.
His record against both men offers hope and Ouseph has also learnt from his second round defeat by world number four Chen Jin at the All England tournament in March.
Ouseph had the Chinese at set point in the first only to lose out 23-21 21-8.
"I remember being fairly tired after that first set and his level if anything increased and mine sort of dropped off a little bit," said Ouseph.
"I know where I need to be. I can sort of do it for a set, a set and a half but the challenge is for me to do it for three sets -- and consistently in every round."
Defending champion Lin Dan remains the ultimate challenge for all his rivals next week and Ouseph still rates him the toughest opponent he has ever played, albeit just the once.
That was five years ago when the pair met in the quarter-finals of a tournament in Asia.
He recalled: "I played him in front of about 5,000 people. It was a bit daunting at first. He didn`t really play his hardest against me at first, I don`t think he felt he needed to.”
"But you could tell. I won a few points off him in the second set and he just turned it on. It was really impressive for me to play against -- something for me to aim for."
The big target of course is London 2012 and Ouseph has the ambition.
"I`d hope between now and then I`d try to get a bit further in the bigger tournaments so by the time of the Olympics I`m ready to medal," he said.