Her photograph was missing from hoardings and cutouts at Central Park but the hundreds who gathered to see PV Sindhu’s match had no trouble recognising her as she walked into the court in Rio to play the Gold Medal Badminton match.
The live telecast of the match in an amphitheatre inside the park on Friday evening had spectators cheering and gasping when Sindhu won or lost points. They danced in front of the screen when she won the first set and discussed the strategy when she lost the second and the third.
No one booed when she lost the final set. She was given a standing ovation, instead.
There were posters and cutouts of more popular sportspersons as one walked in. Leander Paes, Saina Nehwal, Jwala Gutta and Sania Mirza stared back as people flowed in to cheer Sindhu on.
“At least she won a silver. She played the world number one and gave her a tough fight. That deserves respect,” said Raghav Chandra, 20, a Delhi University student.
Most in the audience had not heard of Sindhu before she won the quarterfinals. Her win in the semifinals made her a household name.
“We had thought we’d be cheering Saina Nehwal on as she was the most talked about but this is as good, if not better. No one knew her before she won the silver medal. She is the biggest start of the country, for now at least. In a cricket-crazed country that is a huge achievement,” said Prakriti Shah, 37, who saw the match with her friends and family.
The atmosphere at the Central Park was reminiscent of the cricket world cup finals. People came with flags. The cheers were the same, as was the enthusiasm.
Cheers of Vande Mataram and Bharat Mata ki jai rang out periodically.
Many who came to watch the match knew very little about the game. That didn’t stop them from cheering on, sometimes even when Sindhu lost a point.
“Is a set for 21 points?” asked an elderly man.
“Are the side galleries off limits?” asked a young girl.
“What about the back gallery?” others asked.
They quickly got the answers.
“It is a miracle that she got a silver medal. Other countries spend crores on training their players. We barely spend a few lakhs,” said Manisha Agarwal, 27, an IT professional.