Saina No. 2?

P. V. Sindhu... India's next big hope.-PHOTO: H. VIBHU

Does she feel the pressure of being tipped as the next Saina Nehwal? “No, not at all. The simple reason is that I never think on those lines despite she being my role model and a great source of inspiration. In fact, it is an honour and a privilege to train with her at the Academy,” says P. V. Sindhu. Over to V. V. Subrahmanyam.

She is growing in stature on the international badminton circuit. Indeed, Pusarla Venkata Sindhu, a trainee from the Gopi Chand Academy in Hyderabad, has made remarkable progress in the big league in the last six months.

Winning seems to have become a habit going by the number of titles — including quite a few ‘doubles' — that Sindhu has won in some of the all-India ranking tournaments. “I am really enjoying the game now. Apparently, winning important titles makes so much of a difference to your attitude for the next big event,” she says.

The 2010 World juniors quarter-finalist is clearly in the mood to don the mantle as the next big hope of Indian women's badminton. “Well, I have a long way to go. But, I am determined to progress steadily working hard and showing dedication,” says Sindhu who gets special attention from the former all-England champion and India's Chief National Coach Pullela Gopi Chand at his own Academy.

“She is a special talent and has to be nurtured very carefully. The best part is she is young and willing to keep improving every day. And what impresses me the most is she never complains even if asked to do the extra hour of training on any given day,” says Gopi Chand.

“When I look back at the last one year, I feel that my World Juniors performance was the big motivation I was looking for. For, that performance has changed my attitude towards the game. After that I got the feeling that I belonged to the big events,” says Sindhu, who picked up her maiden international singles title in the Maldives Open a few weeks ago and also reached the semi-finals of the Badminton Asia Youth (under-19) before losing to Sun Yu of China.

This lanky 5' 11” Hyderabadi, a student of St. Ann's College (Mehdipatnam), was ranked World No. 145 a couple of months ago. But now she is No. 52. “This is another aspect which should inspire any athlete. There is no better feeling than stepping into this big league,” she says with a sense of pride.

It is heartening that neither Sindhu nor Gopi feel the job is over. “It is mission half-accomplished. If you want to be a force to be reckoned with at the highest level, two things are imperative — peak fitness levels and the ability to keep improving and adapting to the given conditions,” says Gopi. And, he ensures that the focus is clearly on these two aspects as one of his most gifted trainees is gearing up for the huge challenges.

“I am not in a hurry. I just want to take it event by event. You can always dream big but you should also have your feet on the ground. So, I don't talk big but am just keen to move up the ladder and take things as they come,” says Sindhu, who was a semi-finalist in the Indian Grand Prix in Hyderabad before losing to Ratnasari Fransiska in her maiden Grand Prix.

Sport is in Sindhu's blood. Her father Ramana is an Arjuna awardee and turned out for India in volleyball. Sindhu's mother, Vijaya, too was a volleyball player. Here's a 2006 file picture of the trio.-PHOTO: MAHESH HARILAL

The fact that Sindhu — now with BPCL and also sponsored by the Olympic Gold Quest — is already in the Uber Cup team, just to get a feel of what it means to be there, is also a part of Gopi's meticulous training-cum-exposure regimen. This was the major difference which saw Saina Nehwal pull away from the rest of the crowd once she joined Gopi after her initial stint with Dronacharya S. M. Arif.

“I don't feel my height is a major handicap. I look at it as a huge advantage especially when picking up the deep returns from the corners. It is true that I have to change my style of game depending on what kind of opponent I face,” remarks Sindhu.

For his part, Gopi feels that the biggest plus for his trainee is that she is least scared in taking on even reputed players. “Once she is on the court, she stays focused on how to win the points and does not bother about reputations,” he pointed out. “Definitely, we are working on some key areas where Sindhu will be a different player in the coming days,” he replies to a query.

Does she feel the pressure of being tipped as the next Saina Nehwal? “No, not at all. The simple reason is that I never think on those lines despite she being my role model and a great source of inspiration. In fact, it is an honour and a privilege to train with her at the Academy,” says Sindhu. “I look at myself as someone willing to show the desired commitment and hard work to be a much better player and never as a successor to anyone. For, once I start thinking on those lines, it is inviting pressure. So, I am happy to be just Sindhu and not the next best hope or anything else as some try to project me,” she says.

With parents — P. V. Ramana, former central blocker of the Indian bronze-medal winning volleyball team in the 1986 Asiad, and P. Vijaya (also a volleyball player) — not only supporting her in a big way but also having a sobering influence, Sindhu can only look one way — ahead.