In the wake of her stunning victory over Olympic champion Li Xuerui, Indian badminton buffs believe that P. V. Sindhu has the potential to be a world-beater. By V. V. Subrahmanyam.

Pusarla Venkata Sindhu took a giant leap into stardom literally by knocking out the reigning Olympic gold medallist, Li Xuerui of China, in the quarterfinals of the 2012 China Masters Super Series recently. The result, in a way, was a reminder of her fast-growing stature in the world of badminton. No wonder, India’s chief national coach and former All England champion Pullela Gopi Chand rates her very high.

“The victory against the Olympic champion means a lot to me, though I am aware that I still have a long way to go,” says the 17-year-old player from Gopi Chand’s Academy in Hyderabad.

What is remarkable about Sindhu is her ability to shut out the reputation of her opponent when she enters the court. Perhaps this is one of the traits she has picked up from her father P. V. Ramana, a former international volleyball player and Asian Games bronze medal winner.

“I just went out, didn’t bother about who I was playing against. My aim was to play to my strengths, and I am happy with the end-result,” says Sindhu, a first year B.Com student at St. Ann’s College (Mehdipatnam) in Hyderabad.

“Definitely, the win — the biggest of my career — should make me more confident while playing in the big events,” she adds.

Sindhu, however, has put this victory behind her and is focussed on working hard and improving her game. “The fact that I lost in my maiden Super Series (China Masters) semifinal to Jiang Yanjiao after that big victory and then the early exit in the Japan Open that followed is a warning signal that I have to be consistent,” she says.

On being tipped as the next Saina Nehwal, Sindhu says rather shyly, “I don’t want to be engaged in any such debates. I will be happy if I hold my own in the world of badminton. She (Saina) is my role model and I can only say that I am fortunate to train with her daily at the Gopi Chand Academy. And, also the fact that Gopi Sir is the chief coach.”

Interestingly, Sindhu does not want to talk much about her dreams; she rather likes to take it event by event. “Well, the big one — if I am permitted to say — is to win an Olympic medal, but right now, I am not thinking that far. It is important to keep improving and be consistent,” she says.

Sindhu is delighted that she is now regarded as a force to reckon with. “I am way behind Saina in this regard, but the fact that a full-strength support staff was present (by the side of Li Xuerui) when I beat the Olympic gold medallist gave me immense pleasure that I am being taken seriously by the Chinese contingent,” she says.

Talking of her game and technique, the 5-foot, 11-inch player asserts that height is not a disadvantage for her. “I don’t think that is an issue anymore. Yes, there were days when many doubted my ability because of my height. But thanks to Gopi Sir, there is a system in place during training which takes care of all the aspects. That’s why I keep saying that there is no better place to train than at his Academy, especially for players of my age,” she says.

Her parents, Ramana and Vijaya, are quite happy with the way things have panned out for Sindhu. “The fact that she was with Gopi almost a year before he had actually started the Academy was a major plus for my daughter,” says Ramana.

“And naturally, Gopi being such a professional with a no-nonsense approach, there has been a drastic improvement in Sindhu’s all-round game,” he adds.

Ramana used to travel a distance of 50 kms daily to ensure that his daughter was at Gopi Chand’s Academy by 4.30 am every day before shifting residence closer to the Academy. The reason was that Sindhu was ranked No. 148 in the World in June 2011 and Ramana wanted his daughter to improve. Now, she is ranked No. 20!

Gopi Chand is of the view that Sindhu, the reigning National champion, has the potential to be a world-beater. “When I say this, I don’t mean this could happen within the next six months. And despite the remarkable improvement she has been showing of late, which was evident in her win over Xuerui, I can confidently say that she will be a major threat for the best of players in the 2016 Olympics,” he says.

What separates Sindhu from the rest of the players of her league is her big heart. “I have to take both the wins and the losses in my stride and look ahead even while picking the positives from these results. One of the big lessons that I learnt from my parents is that learning is a continuous process irrespective of whether you achieve something big too early or not,” says Sindhu, who is supported by Olympic Gold Quest and BPCL.

The sensational victory against Li Xuerui, coming within three months of her becoming the first Indian ever to win the Asian junior (under-19) girls title, has put Sindhu in the spotlight. “At 17, when she is able to achieve these kinds of results, she is bound to be a big hit,” says Gopi. He also has some sound advice for Sindhu: “What has happened is past, and what is important is how well you keep improving in each tournament you take part in.”