A giant step towards stardom

Sindhu has been growing in stature in the world of badminton, and there is no better proof than her performance in the World Championships recently, writes V. V. Subrahmanyam.

When Pusarla Venkata Sindhu leaned forward and lowered her head to receive the bronze medal at the 2013 Badminton World Championships in Guangzhou (China), it was a historic moment for India. And along with her on the podium were Li Xuerui (China, silver medal) and Ratchanok Intanon (Thailand, gold medal). Sindhu, for sure, would freeze this moment in memory.

Sindhu has been growing in stature in the world of badminton, and there is no better proof than her performance in the World Championship. She may have lost the ‘battle of teenagers’, with the three-time World junior champion Ratchanok emerging victor in straight games (21-10, 21-13) in the semi-finals, but by all means Sindhu was the toast of the nation with her performance that saw the 18-year-old girl from Hyderabad become the first ever woman from India to win a World Championship singles medal.

Later, Ratchanok, 18, became the youngest woman ever and the first from Thailand to win the World title. She shocked Olympic champion Li Xuerui 22-20, 18-21, 21-14 in the final.

For long, the chief national coach, Pullela Gopi Chand, has been saying that Sindhu is India’s next best bet in women’s singles after Saina Nehwal. Though she has been in the shadow of her illustrious compatriot, Sindhu has slowly but steadily inched her way into the big league.

Sindhu’s father P. V. Ramana, who was a member of the bronze medal-winning Indian volleyball team at the 1986 Asian Games, used to travel 35 kilometres daily to drop her at the Gopi Chand Academy at 4.30 a.m.

“We always thought that since she had the passion for the sport she should be supported, come what may,” said Ramana, an Arjuna Award winner.

Sindhu’s amazing performance in her maiden World Championship should be one of the most memorable chapters in Indian badminton. First, in the pre-quarterfinals, the five-foot 10-inch player knocked out the defending champion and 2012 London Olympics silver medallist, Yihan Wang, 21-18, 23-21. And as if to prove it was no flash in the pan, Sindhu came up with another terrific performance to despatch former World No. 1 and the 2010 Asian Games gold medal winner, Wang Shixian, 21-18, 21-17 in the quarterfinals.

The two big wins put the spotlight on Sindhu as the whole nation waited in anticipation ahead of her semi-final clash with Ratchanok.

“I was not nervous but conscious of the huge expectations back home. I won’t say that this is the reason for my off-colour performance but it was certainly one of those days when nothing went right for me,” Sindhu said after losing her semi-final clash to Ratchanok.

“Definitely, it was a dream debut for me in the World Championship. I will surely cherish the big wins against the two Wangs for a long time to come.

“Yes, it could have been better, but again I keep saying you need to be consistent to win big titles. This is one big lesson I learnt,” she added.

Gopi Chand, former All England champion, had repeatedly stated, “Sindhu has the game and the willingness to stretch herself far but she needs to be more consistent if she has to win big titles.”

Ironically, for a player known to unleash telling smashes, the reigning Asian under-19 champion executed her first big smash in the semi-finals only in the second game when down 5-12.

“The problem was she made too many unforced errors, conceding easy points. At this level, this is the least expected of anyone,” said Gopi.

However, the chief national coach was delighted with the way Sindhu handled the top Chinese players — Yihan and Shixian. “In a World Championship, to play in two such tough matches on consecutive days will drain you out — mentally and physically. But Sindhu’s fitness and her ability to stay cool under pressure were the brightest aspects of her campaign in the Worlds,” he explained.

Like millions across the country, her parents, Ramana and Vijaya, too were disappointed. “It was not the way we would have loved to see Sindhu play in the semi-finals. But overall, we are immensely pleased that she won a bronze medal in the World Championship,” said Ramana.

* * * Super Dan's day

Chinese superstar Lin Dan took the badminton world title for a fifth time after his archrival Lee Chong Wei was stretchered off the court in the third game. The current World No. 1 from Malaysia dropped to his haunches at 16-19 down, and then tried to recover, but he had to retire from the match at 20-17, paving the way for Lin to take the title 16-21, 21-13, 20-17.

Lee had been hoping to end a run of high-profile defeats at the hands of Lin — widely regarded as the game’s best-ever player — who beat him in the previous World Championship men’s singles final and in the last two Olympic finals.

Lin, 29, known as ‘Super Dan’, was making his comeback at the tournament with a controversial wildcard place after a year on the sidelines to spend time with his family.

“He got this cramp out there and it reminded me of my training — when you have that, you cannot move at all. From that moment, we were not opponents any more. I really wanted to help and I went over to ask if he was OK. He didn’t want to give up,” said Lin.

China had made a clean sweep of the titles in the last two World Championships, but this time it managed just two gold medals out of a possible four.

The results (all finals):

Men’s singles: Lin Dan (China) beat Lee Chong Wei (Malaysia) 16-21, 21-13, 20-17 (Lee withdrew injured). Men’s doubles: Mohammad Ahsan & Hendra Setiawan (Indonesia) beat Mathias Boe & Carsten Mogensen (Denmark) 21-13, 23-21. Women’s singles: Ratchanok Intanon (Thailand) beat Li Xuerui (China) 22-20, 18-21, 21-14. Women’s doubles: Wang Xiaoli & Yu Yang (China) beat Eom Hye-Won & Jang Ye-Na (Korea) 21-14, 18-21, 21-8. Mixed doubles: Tontowi Ahmad & Liliyana Natsir (Indonesia) beat Ma Jin & Xu Chen (China) 21-13, 16-21, 22-20.