From Olympic medal to Superseries victory, a year to remember for PV Sindhu
An Olympic silver medal. A career-best ranking of six. A maiden Super Series Premier title, that too in China. This has been nothing less than a watershed year for PV Sindhu. From the time, the shuttler from Hyderabad broke into the national scene as a teenager, she has been touted as the next big thing in Indian badminton — and 2016 was when she made the leap.
The year started with a tournament win for Sindhu as she strode to the title at the Malaysia Masters in January. However, disappointment lurked around the corner as she lost in the second round at the Syed Modi International Badminton Championships before Team India’s ouster from the Badminton Asia Team Championships, being held at her hometown in Hyderabad.
All England dejection
Close on its heels came a shocking first-round ouster from the All England Championships at the hands of Porntip Buranaprasertsuk.
However, Sindhu’s turnaround started at the Rio Olympics. Competing in her first Games, the pressure was immense. It only magnified after London Olympics bronze medallist Saina Nehwal was eliminated early, leaving her the only Indian women’s shuttler in the fray.
But the 21-year-old emerged victorious against the wily Tai Tzu Ying from Chinese Taipei, before overwhelming the likes of London Olympics silver medallist Wang Yihan and Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara, who had won the All England title.
Sindhu went on to lose in the final to Carolina Marin, but carried her form into the rest of the season. She won the China Open Super Series Premier title and reached the final of the Hong Kong Super Series before making it to the semifinal of the prestigious Dubai World Super Series Finals.
Can get better
An exceptional year like that could lead one to get complacent. India’s chief national coach Pullela Gopichand understands this. Perhaps that is why, earlier this month, he said: “I’ve always maintained the fact, even when she won the World Championship bronze medals in 2013 and 2014, that Sindhu is still some way away from being at her best. I maintain that even now, she has the potential to be even better. She needs to adapt to different styles of play, different court conditions and different experiences.”
Sindhu agreed with her coach’s assessment. “This has been a fantastic year for me. But I feel that this is just the start for me, I have a long way to go. I have to work a lot more because the responsibilities are also more. Getting to this level is okay, but maintaining it requires you to work a lot more,” Sindhu said earlier this month. The Olympic silver medal was important for other reasons too. It was reassurance that Nehwal’s medal at London four years ago was not just a one-off and that Indian shuttlers could rub shoulders with the best in the business.
Injury plagues Saina
While Sindhu’s stock rose exponentially, Nehwal’s year was plagued by an injury to her right knee — branded the toughest moment of her career by her current coach Vimal Kumar — which led to the 26-year-old to be ousted from Rio Olympics early. After making it to the quarters of the All England Championships, the 26-year-old reached four consecutive semifinals at Swiss Open, India Open Super Series, Malaysia Open Superseries Premier and Badminton Asia Championships. She won the Australian Open Super Series event in June.
The knee injury, which required surgery, then hampered her progress at the rest of the tournaments she participated in. Her ranking also took a dive to 11th spot in the aftermath of the injury.
What’s heartening, though, is that the shuttler reached the quarterfinals of the Hong Kong Open Super Series and Macau Open Grand Prix Gold tournaments, despite not being fully fit.
While it remains to be seen if the former world No 1 will reach the lofty heights she has achieved in the past, Sindhu’s emergence has raised hopes that India can expect more glory on the badminton court in the following years.