2017’s top 10 — P. V. Sindhu: A satisfying 12 months!

P. V. Sindhu started the year as sixth in world rankings, climbed to a career-best second in November and ended the year as third.

For P. V. Sindhu, the year 2017 proved by far the best in her career. The 22-year-old built on the gains following her return with a silver medal from the 2016 Rio Olympics. She added the World Championship silver medal, to go with two previous bronze medals from the premier event and rose to a career-high ranking during the year.

Sindhu started the year as sixth in world rankings, climbed to a career-best second in November and ended the year as third. She played 52 matches, won 40 and lost 12.

Sindhu won three titles, including two in India — the Syed Modi Grand Prix and India Open — apart from the Korea Open. She finished runner-up in the World Championship and the Hong Kong Open. Against World No. 1 Tai Tzu Ying (Chinese Taipei), Sindhu lost all three times this year, taking her sequence of defeats to four. In head-to-head clashes, Tai Tzu Ying leads Sindhu 8-3.

But Sindhu leads World No. 2 Akane Yamaguchi 5-3. This year, in four meetings, Sindhu lost in the French Open but avenged the defeat in Hong Kong. In the season-ending BWF World Super Series Finals, Sindhu beat Yamaguchi in the league, but lost in the final. Against World No. 7, World champion Nozomi Okuhara of Japan and World No. 8 Chen Yufei, the highest-ranked Chinese, Sindhu shared a 2-2 head-to-head record this year.

The laurels

Syed Modi Grand Prix: Gold.

India Open: Gold.

World Championship: Silver.

Korea Open: Gold.

Hong Kong Open: Silver.

BWF Super Series Final: Silver.

 

“Raise the bar with every match”

Taking time off from her demanding training schedule, Sindhu looks back at the year 2017.

How do you look at the badminton scenario, especially women’s singles?

I repeat, there is very little difference among the top 20 players. All the training programmes and the efforts will all boil down to how well you play on the given day, irrespective of whom you are facing. The opponent can be a relatively inexperienced and young or even a world champion. It is imperative for you to give off your best.

What do you believe are the keys to success at the highest level?

Once you are on the court, there is no time to think that you are up against a player with a certain reputation. It doesn’t matter. Staying focussed right through the match for five full days will fetch you the titles. There is just no room for complacency at any given stage during any championship.

What exactly is your mental framework when you go out to play?

The specific intent is to keep raising the bar with each match. Just ignore the draw to avoid distractions and the primary objective is to keep winning. There is no other way to reach your goals.

How important was it being an Olympics silver medallist before you entered this year’s Worlds where you picked up a silver again?

Frankly, I feel more confident. I am more mature in handling different challenges — on and off the court — given the new-found reputation by virtue of my achievements.

Does this mean you feel the pressure too?

Not really. I deem it as a privilege, for not many can be in this kind of position, and mind you it has not come overnight. It has taken years of struggle and thanks to Gopi Sir and his entire team (smiles).

What are the big changes in your game after last year’s Rio Olympics silver?

Nothing specific except the fact that I am not in a hurry to play all those strokes now. I have learnt the essence of patience and am better in controlling the pace of the shuttle.

Essentially, you have to keep evolving with each tournament because of the technology available which makes it easier for the opponents to ‘sort’ you out. You should be able to come up with new strategies, can’t stick to any particular style and hope to keep winning. And, most importantly, you have to be consistent at the highest level.

You have won a silver each in the 2016 Rio Olympics and the 2017 Worlds. Which one is more special?

The Rio silver was a very special day in my life. Yes, things (have been) happening so fast in the last year. And winning the Worlds silver this year does rank along with the Rio medal in terms of satisfaction as winning two bronze and a silver in the Worlds is never easy.

How do you look at the future of badminton, especially from an Indian perspective?

You will see much better results thanks to the wonderful coaching system established by Gopi Sir. Just imagine the possibility of me and Saina playing in a major final! Such is the kind of impact Indian shuttlers (pointing to the success story of men players too headed by K. Srikanth) are having on the sport now. Great days are ahead for sure.

On the influence of Gopi as a coach?

I repeat I feel indebted to him for the relentless efforts he has been putting in to make us what we are today. It is not just about a Sindhu or a Saina. Look at the number of players trained at the Gopi Academy in such a professional manner.

To be specific, how do you look at the year 2017?

It has been a highly satisfying year with the Worlds silver being the high point. Becoming the first Indian to win the Korea Super Series title and making it to the Dubai BWF Super Series Final were also big feats. Importantly, I have stayed in the top five, which is ample proof of my consistency. Yes, it could have been better if I had won a few more Super Series titles. But, no regrets.

How about the PBL? (she will be spearheading defending champion Chennai Smashers’ challenge)

I must say the PBL is a huge advertisement for the sport given its format, the number of big players from abroad and also the kind of popularity it has amongst the fans. Certainly, it has taken PBL to a different level, giving so many gen next players a huge opportunity to share their experiences with big names and be better players.

V. V. SUBRAHMANYAM