I feared Sofia Mattsson, beating her 13-0 gave me a boost: Vinesh

Vinayak Padmadeo

Indiatimesworld News Service

New Delhi, September 23

Vinesh Phogat slayed two ghosts in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, by winning her first-ever World Championships medal. A 4-1 win over Greece wrestler Maria Prevolaraki in the bronze medal playoff saw her ending a long-cherished desire of winning a medal at the Worlds. 

Hours earlier, she beat the current world No. 1 in the 53kg weight category, Sofia Mattsson, 13-0. Vinesh beat Sara Ann Hildebrandt of the United States 8-2 to lock the quota for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. 

But the biggest takeaway for the 25-year-old wrestler was beating six-time Worlds medallist and Rio Olympics bronze winner Sofia Mattsson of Sweden. Vinesh admitted that she was fearful of the Swede. It was because of her that she delayed shifting to the 53kg category from her preferred 50kg weight category. “I thought my toughest fight was against Sofia. She is a six-time World Championships medallist and won the bronze in Rio. She is a strong opponent and dominates her weight category,” Vinesh said on the sidelines of the launch of Dangal League on Monday. “When people were egging me to shift to 53kg I did not change my category because of Sofia. It was my mindset. I would think how will I be able to beat Sofia? But when I defeated her with a big margin, it gave me a lot of confidence,” she added. This was Vinesh’s second win over her more accomplished opponent. “I have defeated her before with a 4-0 margin but it was a very close affair. The match could have ended in her favour as well. But this time, I beat her in a one-sided contest, so it was a big relief,” she said.

Draw no big deal

Vinesh further said her approach towards bouts has changed post her knee injury during her quarterfinal match against China’s Sun Yanan at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Now, she does not shy away from big-ticket names, rather she wants to fight them. At the 2019 Worlds, she was drawn against Sofia, world No. 2 Mayu Mukaida and was to face Hildebrandt in the quarterfinals. But unlike the Indian camp, Vinesh was unfazed by the tough competition. “I like fighting good and pedigreed wrestlers. I never thought that I got a bad draw. I just wanted to fight,” Vinesh explained. “I have learned a few things after my Rio injury. Now, I do not think about my opponents. All I am concerned about is how I perform on the mat,” she said of her preparations. 

Different approach

Vinesh and her coach Woller Akos chose a different approach while preparing for the World Championships. The Indian squad left 15 days before the start to get acclimatised with the conditions but Vinesh stayed back and trained in an academy in Kharkhoda, near Sonepat, with husband Somvir Rathi. “It was my coach’s plan. He didn’t want me to train with others as it would give them a fair idea of my weak points. Everyone has weak points. We may bring perfection in our game but there is always a weak point. So, he did not want me to go there (Nur-Sultan) early as my opponents will get a fair idea of my weak points,” she said. “Sometimes athletes get bored if they go to a place to train ahead of a big tournament. My coach wanted me to arrive there with fresh mind,” she said.