A maddening frown on her face as she walked across the court, accompanied with occasional, raving yells and almost no eye-contact with her opponent, who has always cut across a pleasant figure both on and off the court. That was PV Sindhu at the St. Jakobshalle on Sunday, before she won.
While many would attribute her gold medal in the third attempt at the BWF World Championships to her “strong will”, the stunned and petrified look on Nozomi Okuhara, who kept flooring herself in desperate attempts to return Sindhu’s lightening quick smashes, told a completely different story.
It wasn’t just a sudden rise in desire that pushed Sindhu to become whatever she was on Sunday. Okuhara had faced Sindhu six times over the last two years prior to Sunday, and even in the four defeats that came in those matches for the Japanese, hardly had she seen her nemesis that ferocious. It was as if Sindhu had taken Jonah Vogelbaum’s compound-V before stepping on to the court.
Rage has always been a mystical concept to human evolution. The whopping adrenaline rush blended perfectly with insane anger and determination to get something has been known to make humans go ballistic and perform extraordinary feats. The closest to personifying such an abstract was shown in the Matrix Trilogy, where "The One" or "Neo", is also referred to as the Rage.
The body takes refute in it to reach the optimal potential it can attain that is fuelled by anger, hatred, and with a strange ruthlessness in watching others in pain. Adapting the rage would never be a choice but rather, a necessity, and it could be carried only by the chosen few who could call upon it to destroy the hopes and dreams of anyone on their way when pride and glory was in line.
“Nozomi” in Japanese roughly translates to “hope” in English, and there was no debate that Sindhu annihilated her on Sunday. What had taken over an hour and insanely long rallies to finish two years back, was leveled to the ground in just 37 minutes yesterday. Sindhu even took one minute lesser than Kento Momota, who just ran over a fifth-seeded Anders Antonsen in the finals.
The incessant follow-ups to the net, microseconds after unleashing a fierce smash, was pretty much Sindhu’s only weapon in the last three rounds of the World Championships. And she didn’t do anything different this time either other than what she has been done on numerous previous occasions. The only difference was, she was doing it at such a heightened level her opponents never fathomed she could perform at.
While most Indians would familiarize Sindhu with India cricket captain Virat Kohli, whose on-field and off-field demeanor is totally different and who poses aggression as his biggest weapon, badminton fans have previously seen this uber offensive approach in Spain’s Carolina Marin. The flamenco dancer couldn’t just be a world beater with quick feet in short spaces and strong focus; hence she resorted to a maniac rage that accompanied her strengths just perfectly.
The Spaniard is still remembered roaming across the court like an enraged puma in the Istora Senayan Stadium in Jakarta during the 2015 World Championships final. The umpire kept calling her name, asking her to get back into the court, but so entrenched was she in pumping herself up that she hardly heard that.
After getting beaten by the 22-year-old in that match, the then World No. 2 Saina Nehwal had said, “I did not know it will be so fast. Yesterday I was playing with someone (Lindaweni Fanetri) who is a stroke player and that match was a bit late in the evening. Within few hours I had to play someone who was so fast. [Marin’s] game was too quick for me to even think what to do next.”
One could actually hear Okuhara’s exact thought on Sunday in these words said four years back by Nehwal.
However, so much power doesn’t just come without a cost and just like Compound V induced paranoia with unstable abilities, rage comes at the price of deteriorating health – both physical and mental, and inconsistent form. For Marin, who dominated a good two years, 2014 and 2015, where she won two BWF World Championships and five Super Series titles amongst innumerable other trophies, inconsistency and recurring injuries engulfed a glittering career full of promises.
The Spaniard’s path-breaking playing style, which took the world by storm initially, was seen cracking by Okuhara at the Dubai World Super Series Finals 2015, following which Marin found it difficult to overcome the Japanese – losing three of their seven encounters. Not only Okuhara but Wang Yihan also understood her ploy almost immediately, and quite interestingly, the Spaniard didn’t have to face either of them in her run-up to the Olympics final.
Gradually, the likes of Tai Tzu Ying and Akane Yamaguchi also found the weaker nerve of the Spaniard and have collectively brought an end to her dominance. Marin’s latest big title, the World Championships in 2018, also saw the Spaniard avoiding all the above three players throughout the tournament to lift the title.
There has been a very good reason why the Chinese have always focused on their age old proven traits of good speed, brilliant deception and a robust defense to excel in the sport – longevity. All the above shuttlers, who eventually cracked Marin, have excelled in these traits in some way or the other.
Marin could still have won a fair share of titles to maintain her legacy, but repeatedly resorting to her animal instincts meant she suffered a hip injury in 2017 and a deadly ruptured anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) during the 2019 Indonesia Masters final. The Spaniard’s current recovery today doesn’t only include long hours of rehabilitation guided by physiotherapists, but also two psychologists, and two Dogs to keep her emotions in check.
While Sindhu could very well last longer than her Spanish counterpart, simply because she is younger, has a bigger frame, and an athletic body to carry such rampage for long, this addiction could also very well be the end of her in the long run. Sindhu has been reportedly working on her strength since the last 45 days and it clearly came off well on Sunday, but as far as sticking to this approach is concerned - it could be career threatening.
If Pullela Gopichand has already identified the hidden weapon then its best he asked Sindhu to learn and control it and, quite hopefully, not to overexert herself before the Tokyo Games for while an angry mind might give you temporary physical strength, a calmer mind is still the only source of conviction that a victor needs.