India defender and drag-flick expert Rupinder Pal Singh may have suffered a slump in his previous season but has more than made up for it in 2019. The 29-year-old made a comeback to the Indian squad, after a lengthy absence, in the away tour to Belgium, and was one of the standout performers for his side in the Olympic qualifier games against Russia held in India.
"I think 2018 was a relatively tough year for me because I was not getting into the side, and I missed some major tournaments. It was a really difficult experience but these tough phases transform you into a better player and a wiser human being. I realised that I needed to work on some areas after I had sustained a major injury, but I am really grateful to be ending 2019 with a very positive mindset,” Rupinder said at a press conference held in Bhubaneswar, Odisha.
The hockey star also elaborated on his comeback and the road ahead where he looks ahead to “achieving great things with this bunch of players in the next 7-8 months”.
"It was a journey of constant hard work on the ground and in the gym, and I am really pleased with the way I have been able to make a comeback. The most important thing for me was to make sure that I contribute to the team performing to the best of our abilities, and I think we are gradually getting to a level which can help us compete for the top prizes.”
“It (2020) is an important year in the lives of a lot of players in the world because we have the Olympic Games, and I am really looking forward to making my country proud," he added.
The Indian hockey team is currently at a training and conditioning camp in Bhubaneswar, with a focus on individual improvements ahead of the FIH Pro League which is slated to begin in January 2020.
"We had these four weeks of camp to focus on our individual development, improvement and growth. The coaching staff has been putting in all the hard work to make sure that all the 34 players in the national camp are working on specific areas of concern for each player - starting from the basics of the game. It is a great process because this is the only time we get to focus on individual players and improving skills, in the lead up to the Olympics,” Rupinder continued.
The veteran defender also revealed that preparing for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo was also on the team’s radar in the months to follow.
Rupinder was part of the Indian squad at the 2016 Rio Games where they lost out in the quarterfinals against Belgium. However, four years later, the defender from Punjab believes his side is much improved and will be one of the main contenders at Tokyo 2020.
“It was a great feeling to have finally represented the country at the Olympic Games. It had always been my dream to play at the Olympics, and the feeling I got playing in that atmosphere was just surreal. It is true that we did not have the best of tournaments, but that experience is something that can help us next year in Tokyo. We have improved a lot in these four years, and I believe that our team is one of the top teams in the world right now."