She’s the first Indian shuttler with back-to-back World Championship medals. Add a Commonwealth Games bronze to the list. Also include the team bronze from Uber Cup and Asian Games to her resume. To top it all, a consistent showing in the top 15 of world rankings. Yet, PV Sindhu’s achievements are always overshadowed by her more illustrious compatriot Saina Nehwal.
Sindhu’s dominant display of power and strength to dismantle Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara in the semifinals of the Rio Olympics had the nation erupting in joy on Thursday. She will take on world No 1 Carolina Marin in the summit clash on Friday.
All work came to a standstill as eyes stayed glued to television sets across the country; social media updated every second with scores and analysis. As the lanky 21-year-old closed in on her first final in her maiden Olympic journey, fans held their breath. Every smash celebrated with shouts, every drop shot with squeals and mistakes with groans. It was as if the nation, so devoid of Olympic glory, believed it was on court with Sindhu as she decimated Okuhara.
Okuhara is not easy to beat. She’s a retriever, a stubborn one at that, whose drives can annoy the best in the world. But on Thursday, it seemed there was a role reversal. It was Sindhu who picked up everything the world No 6 threw in her direction, sticking to the strategy planned by coach Pullela Gopichand. Not only did she attack at the opportunities she created, she comprehensively beat the Japanese who had defeated her thrice before. It was Sindhu who dictated, who ruled while Okuhara had no choice but to bow.
India’s first medal from an Olympic badminton final is assured. The question now is whether it’s going to be gold or silver.
Fans would be well versed with Marin’s capabilities. The Spaniard, now 23, is no pushover. It’s no fluke that she’s the best player in the world. Just for the record, she is the twice defending world champion and twice European champ.
Marin is naturally fast. Being left-handed is a natural advantage (Think of Rafa Nadal being forced to play with his left by uncle Toni as a child and today proud owner of 14 Grand Slams in tennis) and that she can return from anywhere on the court at a speed which doesn’t allow opponents enough time to recover cements her style on court.
Sindhu’s head-to-head stands 3-4 in Marin’s favour. The last meeting came in November 2015 where the Spaniard thrashed the Indian 21-17, 21-19 in Hong Kong. But this a new Sindhu in Rio de Janeiro. If her inconsistency saw her lose to Okuhara in February on home soil, five months later, she’s turned around her game. More aggressive, controlled, and more assured. The fact that she’s playing such a patient game strategically is the result of months of behind-the-scenes hard work.
To be able to get the better of Marin, one has to put her on the back foot from the start, to not allow her to whip her returns. One has to slow Marin’s naturally fast game. If Sindhu plays the dominating game like the semis, she stands a very good chance in the final. She’s already created history but gold will cement her place in the books for years to come.
(PV Sindhu will be in action today in the badminton women’s singles at 6.55pm IST, Friday. The match will be telecast on Star Sports 2 and Star Sports 3)