P.V. Sindhu: Indian badminton's golden girl

Given the fact that Sindhu is only 24, and yet to reach her peak, the badminton lovers in the country can expect her to provide many more years of joy.

On top of the world: P. V. Sindhu with the coveted gold medal in Basel.   -  AP

“Did you watch the way Sindhu played today?”

This was one question that was asked by most of those who saw P. V. Sindhu pulverise the 2017 champion Nozomi Okuhara on way to her first World badminton title at Basel, notably the birthplace of Roger Federer.

Clearly, much before the final point, Sindhu looked a runaway victor. As a result, the focus of the viewers naturally shifted from who would win to how one-sided the contest was. Indeed, the lanky Indian produced a towering performance that left her diminutive Japanese rival feeling increasingly exasperated.

READ : BWF World Championships final: P. V. Sindhu clinches world title, makes history

Once Sindhu sealed the title in just 38 minutes, making it the shortest final to decide the women’s world title, her fans were awe-struck, wondering how well the champion played the big match.

It is often said that one plays only as well as he or she is allowed to. And, in the final, Sindhu simply did not let Okuhara pose any threats. She simply blew her away by executing a game-plan.

By sheer coincidence, Sindhu’s last three titles have been at Okuhara’s expense.

Whether it was the 2017 Korea Open, the 2018 BWF World Tour Finals or the latest World championship, Sindhu made it past the Japanese in the final!

This year, what truly caught the eye of the majority of viewers was Sindhu’s aggression and robust on-court presence. But what could be the singular reason that contributed to Sindhu’s historic triumph becoming a talking point, with certain longevity, even among those who don’t necessarily follow the sport?

After all, there have been individual world titles for Indians in disciplines like boxing, shooting, wrestling, chess, cue sports etc. Then what separates Sindhu’s feat from the rest?

In pictures:  P.V. Sindhu's journey - From badminton prodigy to World Champion

One big reason why Sindhu’s triumph enjoys high value among the sports-lovers in the country is, most of them watched her win.

The availability of live action on television or online, of all major events, has hugely helped badminton and its players to ride on the visibility factor — something that champions like Pankaj Advani, Viswanathan Anand, Mary Kom and Sushil Kumar miss sorely.

Sindhu’s in-the-face aggression, positive body-language, strong on-court presence and innate hunger to win were all too apparent to miss.

Here, it is pertinent to remember that Sindhu went into the final in a bid to change a script that led some cynics to tag her as a ‘choker’. After all, Sindhu was left to clutch silver medals in the 2016 Olympic Games, 2017 and 2018 World championships, 2018 Asian Games and 2018 Commonwealth Games to go with the

2018 and 2019 National championships! Indeed, Sindhu’s record in the title-clashes speaks for itself.

Coming into the World championship, the fifth-ranked Sindhu was not among the favourites. Her previous title had come in the prestigious, year-ending BWF World Tour Finals where she conquered an elite eight-player field in December 2018, ending a sequence of seven defeats in finals. In terms of quality of opposition and play, Sindhu produced her best till date during the week.

Strange as it may sound, Sindhu doesn’t have too many titles to show. In the now-discontinued BWF Superseries, Sindhu has three titles from seven finals. In the BWF World Tour, introduced in 2018, Sindhu finished runner-up thrice. Her only title stands out since it came in the 2018 World Tour Finals.

READ : Sindhu’s Korean coach hails her ‘perfect’ performance in World Championship final

After the year’s title-drought ended with the triumph in the year-ending tournament, 2019 once again saw Sindhu struggle.

This year, barring the World championship and Sudirman Cup (team championship), Sindhu has played nine events. She reached one final, lost the semifinals of two events, failed to get past the quarterfinals in three. She was a pre-quarterfinalist in two others and exited from the second round of the All-England!

It is for everyone to see that Sindhu’s big moments — Olympic Games silver, World Tour Finals title and the World championship gold — have followed a certain pattern. She has nothing major to show before and after these eyeing-catching performances.

Notwithstanding her tremendous achievements, her consistent inconsistency is hard to miss. In fact, barring Tai Tzu Ying who is undoubtedly the woman to beat in the present scenario, no lady player has shown consistent winning form.

Equally, there is no doubt that Sindhu consistently peaked in the big events and made it to the podium. However, with the same consistency she has fallen short of stitching together a sequence of titles.

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Disbelief. History made.   -  Getty Images

 

Perhaps, the answer to this puzzle lies in Sindhu’s mental approach to go with her style of play.

Physically, Sindhu has become stronger and her game has become a lot more physical. Her smashes hold the potential of becoming more powerful and Sindhu is working towards it. Her flexible upper-body tilts and strong shoulders give her the confidence of reaching the shuttle early. On the flip side, this confidence wanes in the middle of back-to-back events.

One hopes this trend changes with Korean coach Kim Ji-Hyun by Sindhu’s side.

 

Every time Sindhu goes into a tournament feeling well rested and well prepared, it reflects in her body language, too. Like in Basel, her physical preparedness for the business-end of the World championship gave her a clear edge. Even after a tough, energy-draining three-game victory over Tai Tzu Ying, Sindhu returned over the next two days to win four short games against two of the world’s top-five players.

Remember, Sindhu dismantled Chen Yufei 21-7, 21-14 in the semifinals and destroyed Okuhara 21-7, 21-7 for the World title to avenge the loss suffered in 2017’s epic final.

Minutes after her win, Sindhu acknowledged Kim Ji Hyun, the 1989 World junior champion and a member of the 1994 Asian Games gold winning team.

“I really focussed this time and of course now I have a new coach — Miss Kim. I’ve been training under her for the past couple of months and improved a lot under her. I am really very thankful to her,” said Sindhu.

READ : P. V. Sindhu: World Championship gold a confidence-booster ahead of Olympics qualification cycle

Clearly, one could see that the Korean’s court-side presence had a calming effect on Sindhu. Kim Ji-Sung had given Sindhu the mental strength needed in key moments, especially in the match against Tai Tzu Ying, and also kept her pumped up even when leading.

Another factor that contributed to Sindhu’s success was her fitness levels. For this, Sindhu was quick to thank Shrikant Verma, her trainer since 2017. She is believed to be doing two hours of daily workout and spending an hour for recovery. In fact, the videos of her rigorous training at Hyderabad’s Suchitra Badminton Academy went viral after her World title-triumph and added to her steadily rising fan-base.

Given the fact that Sindhu is only 24, and yet to reach her peak, the badminton lovers in the country can expect her to provide many more years of joy. For now, since there is no World championship in an Olympic year, Sindhu gets to keep the title till the 2021 edition.

Sindhu’s next goal is obviously the Olympic gold but she surely is keen to set right a certain ‘record.' She has lost the last two National finals to Saina Nehwal, and that too, in straight games. Since the two accomplished champions share a serious on-court rivalry, Sindhu is determined to reverse the trend.

Saina, on her part, has been struggling with fitness issues. And Saina’s reaction to her defeat in the World championship has not gone down well with the BWF.

Saina, after losing to Denmark’s Mia Blichfeldt 21-15, 27-25, 21-12, expressed her frustration through a tweet that read: “Still can’t believe 2 match points which the umpire overruled in the second game. And the umpire tells me in the mid of second game, ‘let the line umpires do their job,’ and I don’t understand suddenly how the umpire overruled the match points. Very sick.”

Since Saina’s match was not played on one of the two TV courts, there was no facility to ‘challenge’ line-calls. Saina and her husband P. Kashyap left the court fuming before giving vent to their feelings through tweets.

The conduct of Saina, once the game’s brand ambassador, disappointed some officials of the BWF. In fact, some of them sought action over her misconduct. It was learnt that they even wanted the Badminton Association of India (BAI) to issue a show-cause notice to Saina and send her response to the BWF.

However, given Saina’s iconic status in the country, the BAI chose to look the other way. Moreover, the controversy was lost in the din of Sindhu’s success that took the nation by storm.

With Saina quietly receding into the background, the mantle of Indian badminton firmly rests with Sindhu. Given Saina’s grit, it should not come as a surprise if she gets her act right and makes a strong comeback before the Tokyo Olympics.

For now, both ladies have reasons to be charged-up in the months leading to the Olympics. Notwithstanding the strong challenge that the Japanese are bound to mount at home, Sindhu and Saina hold the promise of giving India twin-joy at Tokyo.