Sindhu makes history, hockey team on cusp
A second Olympic medal for PV Sindhu. The Indian hockey team in the Olympic semi-finals for the first time since Munich 1972. For India, this was a super Sunday at Tokyo 2020.
With Sindhu’s medal, which she won beating China’s He Bing Jiao in the bronze medal match, India also surpassed its Rio 2016 tally of two. Weightlifter Mirabai Chanu won silver on Day 1 of Tokyo 2020 while boxer Lovlina Borgohain is also assured a medal (colour yet to be decided) after storming into the semis.
Sindhu’s name will now unquestionably be taken among the greatest ever sportspersons from the country after becoming only the second Indian—and first woman—after wrestler Sushil Kumar to win two individual Olympic medals, having claimed a silver five years ago in Rio. The 26-year-old also has five World Championship medals—including the gold she won in 2019.
Sindhu’s efforts ensured that badminton became only the second sport after hockey to bring medals from three consecutive Olympics. Saina Nehwal had won the bronze in London 2012.
Barely half an hour after Sindhu’s dominating straight games win, the Indian men’s hockey team clinched their most significant match in 41 years to enter the semi-finals—the first on artificial turf. In 1972, India won the bronze. India won gold in Moscow 1980, but then the top two from the league phase directly played the final.
Manpreet Singh and his men beat three-time champions Great Britain 3-1 in the quarter-final at the Oi Hockey Staidum with the Singhs—Dilpreet, Hardik and Gurjant—scoring a goal apiece to take India to the cusp of a hockey medal for the first time in more than four decades. India face world champions Belgium on Tuesday morning in the semis.
Now back to Sindhu.
Since she played the Rio 2016 final, the lanky shuttler from Hyderabad has reached the final of every World Championship—an incredible run. That Sindhu is a player transformed when it comes to major tournaments is well known, but on Sunday, she had a different challenge to overcome. Just the day before, after storming through to the semis without dropping a game in Tokyo, she found herself at the receiving end, being dominated by Tai Tzu Ying in the semis. The straight games loss could have been demoralising for her. Instead she came out all guns firing for the bronze playoff, an unusual place for her to be in on the big stage.
“I had a lot of emotions going through me—should I be happy that I won bronze or sad that I lost the opportunity to play in the final. But overall, I had to close off my emotions for this one match and give it my best,” Sindhu said.
Sindhu closed off the match 21-15, 21-13 in 52 minutes to better her record to 7-9 against the Chinese.
“It makes me feel really happy because I’ve worked hard for so many years,” Sindhu said. “It’s a proud moment getting a medal for my country.”
Sindhu knew well that Bing Jiao prefers close net play, a slow game and long rallies. Using the drift to her advantage, Sindhu ensured that Bing Jiao got few opportunities to bring the play to the net, dictated the pace with her hard smashes and made the Chinese run around trying to retrieve steeply angled cross court shots. When the rallies were long, she not only held her nerve, but played freely and aggressively.
“There were really long rallies but I had to be patient and calm,” she said. “Even though I was leading, I did not relax.”
A great fighter, Sindhu lost the lead of the match only once—that too for just a point—in the first game and was sensational in returns throughout the second, including smashes aimed at the body. With twelve match points in hand, Sindhu ended the match with a shot that has defined her game in Tokyo--a cross court back hand return hit hard with the flick of the wrist. She let out a victory cry, raising both arms.
“I’m on cloud nine,” she said. “I’m going to enjoy this moment. My family has worked hard for me and put in a lot of effort, so I’m very thankful. A lot of Indian fans showed me their love and support and I’m very thankful to each and every one of them. Definitely lots of love and support and kisses.”