PV Sindhu | Emerging from Saina's shadows to become India’s new golden girl

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© Gettyimages

PV Sindhu | Emerging from Saina's shadows to become India’s new golden girl

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Arun S Kaimal

08/19/2016

At just 21 years old, PV Sindhu is already an Olympic silver medallist. She gave the World No.1 the scare of her life before her dream run came to an end. Sindhu might have arrived at Rio as a youngster, but she has left the biggest sporting stage as the next flag-bearer of Indian badminton.

Saina Nehwal and Indian badminton have been synonymous with each other for the last decade. Olympic medallist, former world no.1, and umpteen Super Series titles. The accolades hanging around her neck are many. But, on Thursday night, when the badminton star was in a hospital bed in Hyderabad, a 21-year-old from the same city emerged out of Saina’s shadows and took Indian badminton a step forward in the world stage.

Pusarla Venkata Sindhu is not an unknown name in Indian badminton. The Hyderabad lass has been making waves in Indian badminton for the last eight years ever since her success at the sub-junior national level. Born to two national level volleyball players, PV Ramana and P Vijaya, sports was always in Sindhu’s genes. The lanky shuttler, who took up the sport after hearing from her father about the greatness of Pullela Gopichand, was predicted to reach great heights even at a young age and her arrival at the Gopichand Academy at the age of 11 propelled her to the forefront of Indian badminton.

 © Facebook - PV Sindhu

A quarter-final place at the 2010 BWF World Junior Badminton Championships in Mexico increased the hype around Sindhu, so much so that, Olympic Gold Quest signed her up at the age of 16. Watching Saina Nehwal in action day in day out, Sindhu waited in the wings to announce herself on the international stage. It took her two more years to reach there. By that time, Saina Nehwal had become the unopposed superstar in Indian badminton after winning a bronze medal at the 2012 Olympics.

A win against Olympic gold medallist Li Xuerui of China at the China Masters Super Series made the gangly shuttler a name to remember across the badminton world. That was just a start. Next year, Sindhu won her maiden Grand Prix Gold event at the Malaysian Open before going on to create history by winning a World Championship bronze medal. She repeated her bronze-medal winning performance a year later at Copenhagen to add another feather to her cap - A two-time World Championship bronze medallist at just 19. In fact, it took Saina Nehwal seven attempts to clinch a World Championship medal, which she ended in 2015 with a silver-medal winning performance.

As Sindhu rose through the ranks at the international level, accolades also followed her one by one. She was awarded Arjuna Award in 2013, before being conferred with India’s fourth-highest civilian honour in 2015 – the Padma Shri.

 © Facebook- PV Sindhu

But, even though she was making a name for herself at the international level, lack of consistency stopped her from rising to the pinnacle of world badminton. Primarily a methodical player, which is considered to be defensive, Sindhu performed well against the big guns, but consistently failed to defeat the lower-ranked opponents. In fact, until the Rio Olympics, Sindhu went through a bad run, managing just one semi-final appearance or better in her 11 tournaments this year. Early exits in many of the Super Series events pushed her down the rankings, and Sindhu went into the Olympics without much expectations around her.

But, with Gopichand, who was instrumental in helping Saina Nehwal win the bronze medal at the London Olympics, by her side, nothing was impossible for Sindhu at Rio. Gopichand started preparing for the Olympics a year back and provided Sindhu with a weight trainer and fitness expert in a bid to build her stamina and strength on the court. It was a work in progress and although the results were not visible on the court, Gopichand was clear about the aim.

When the draw for the women’s singles event at Rio came out, it looked like a bad one for India. India’s biggest hope, Saina Nehwal was scheduled to run into 2012 London gold medallist Li Xuerui in quarters, while Sindhu was slated to face world no.8 Tai Tzu-Ying in the pre-quarters. Tragedy struck when Saina Nehwal crashed out in the group stage to world no.61 Marija Ulitina of Ukraine. India’s lone hope for a medal was gone, and everyone expected Sindhu and Srikanth to exit the tournament in the next rounds. But, in a matter of days, the story has dramatically changed.

 © Gettyimages

Sindhu’s pre-quarter-final match against Tai Tzu-Ying showed how Gopichand’s planning worked for the lanky shuttler. The Chinese Taipei shuttler, who is considered to be one of the fittest on the court in world badminton, struggled against Sindhu’s new-found aggressive play. She was fit and ready to face anything that was coming her away. Everyone saw a different Sindhu at Rio. The pumping of fists and the loud scream after winning points were never part of Sindhu’s game, and the surprise in her opponents’ eyes signalled towards the same.

A straight-sets victory over Tai Tzu-Ying was a pleasant surprise after the underwhelming show by most Indian athletes at Rio. But, standing in her way in the quarters was World No.2 and 2012 London Olympics silver medallist Wang Yihan. Chinese shuttlers always had an upper hand over Indian players, but Sindhu broke away the shackles with another blistering performance. Smashes were answered in kind, while delicate drops came out of the hat here and there to leave the Chinese stranded in the mid-court. It was clear, after living in the shadows of Saina Nehwal for years, Sindhu had finally emerged out of it and had conquered Saina’s biggest weakness – overcoming the Chinese wall.

A nation of billion people woke up to the news of an Indian in the semi-final of a badminton tournament on Tuesday. She reignited the hopes of a medal at Rio which had died down long back. The pressure of a billion hopes was again on Sindhu’s shoulders yesterday, but the 21-year-old showed nerves of steel in the semi-final against World No.6 Nozomi Okuhara. Nothing was going to stop Sindhu, and she had answers for everything the opponent threw at her. The 11-point run in the second set after the break showed what a medal meant to her, what the medal meant to the nation.

At just 21 years old, PV Sindhu is already an Olympic silver medallist. She gave the World No.1 Carolina Marin the scare of her life before her dream run came to an end. Sindhu might have arrived at Rio as a 21-year-old youngster, but she has left the biggest sporting stage as the next flag-bearer of Indian badminton. A new golden girl out of Gopichand’s academy, another superstar of Indian badminton. 

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