The tempo, the intensity in her eyes and in the way she moved around the court both during and after play… Every single movement PV Sindhu made at the badminton arena in Rio on Friday was announcing the obvious—she has arrived in a grand scale, the way only champions arrive.
The whole of India is giving Sindhu a standing ovation, cheering the way she stepped up her game on the big stage—and nothing comes bigger than the Olympics in badminton.
En route to the final—and even in the final—Sindhu was looking to attack. The ploy or strategy charted by her coach, Pullela Gopichand, was simple, one that was employed by some of the best in the world—including the legendary Chinese shuttler Yang Yang, the 1988 Olympic champion. Sindhu was not going to allow the opponents, whatever their reputation or ranking is, to settle down into their comfort zones, their bread-and-butter game-plans.
Of course, Carolina Marin, the gold medallist and the world No. 1, operates on a different plane—a level which Sindhu is fast reaching. The positive is that even in the losing cause against Marin in the final, Sindhu stood her ground, and in fact she put the Spaniard on the back foot, especially in the opening game.
While we all talk about the grit, aggressive mental attitude and strokes with which Sindhu (and Kidambi Srikanth in the men’s segment earlier) played, what we do not readily comprehend is that the attacking intent, with very little errors, was made possible only because the players have fine-tuned their basic game.
“That’s exactly what coach Gopichand has worked on and improved,” says former international badminton player Rupesh Kumar. “I have seen Sindhu over the years and there is a remarkable difference in the player from a year back. Her entire approach to the game has changed—technical, tactical and mental. The change has not happened all of a sudden. I have noticed that she is moving much better and efficiently, getting the angles right and gets into attacking positions early. Her stroke-play has picked up considerably too and it has more to do with the small corrections in her body posture while hitting. It once again underlines the importance of having perfect basics in place, even at that level.”
With a technically near-perfect base game, Sindhu has been able to step up tempo or aggression at will. More importantly, without conceding too many errors, which has been her bane in the past. She has had trysts with inconsistency over the years and has displayed erratic form even through the course of a tournament.
There was no such rough patch in Rio. Sindhu’s level of play hit a new peak at the Olympics and it remained there. But there is more to cheer about beyond the new-found consistency.
“Yes, her main advantage is her reach and height,” adds Rupesh. “And now with the kind of technical stability she has reached, it will be a matter of time before she rounds off her game by being more comfortable in longer rallies and flat stroke play.”
Sindhu loves to cut the rallies short and uses her height to seal points with big smashes. But her handicap, which was explored by Marin, is that she is uncomfortable when the rally prolongs and when the opponents keep the strokes flat.
“Marin is too fast and is very good with flat play,” explains Rupesh. “It was clear that unless Sindhu counters that she won’t win. And that’s what happened.”
However, the good point is that Sindhu, an Indian Olympic star in every right of it, is one for the future. And, with the medal, she would also be a changed player as it would free her considerably—from the large shadow of Saina Nehwal, and the less obvious but larger spectre of underachievement.
However, the brightest silver lining is that Sindhu, at 21, is still a work in progress and she can step up her game even further.
Tokyo, here we come!