PV Sindhu a world champ, India hits new sporting high
It was supposed to be the hardest match of her life — third time in the final on badminton’s biggest stage, second time against her great nemesis from two years ago, Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara. But PV Sindhu, 24, shuttler, warrior, Olympic silver medallist, decided she was going to make it look incredibly simple as she added “world champion” to that sterling list of sobriquets.
Sindhu zoomed on Sunday to what is arguably the greatest sporting achievement by an Indian woman athlete, and among the greatest by any Indian individual sportsman, by becoming the first from the country to win gold at the badminton world championships.
In the Swiss city of Basel, Sindhu brushed aside Okuhara 21-7, 21-7 in 38 minutes, displaying jaw-dropping control and killer instinct to make it the kind of one-sided contest that is rarely seen at badminton’s top level.
Sindhu’s aggression and constant switch between tosses, net drops and crosscourt smashes left Okuhara a bundle of nerves and errors. She sealed victory with a shot down the line that drew one last backhand error, and threw up her hands in triumph. She ran to coaches Pullela Gopichand and Korean Kim Ji-hyun to celebrate before repeatedly bowing to the packed stands that had backed her.
“I dedicate this win to my mom; it’s her birthday today. I thought I will gift her something and finally I gift her this gold.”
She added: “People are already asking ‘Sindhu, what about gold in Tokyo 2020?’.”
Sindhu has now entered a small and hallowed club with the triumph. Among Indian women, only weightlifter Mirabai Chanu has won the senior world championships in recent years, winning the 48kg gold at the 2017 worlds two years ago.
On a wider scale across Olympic sports, given both her consistency at the world stage and her tenacity, Sunday’s achievement will be spoken of in the same breath as shooter Abhinav Bindra’s gold medal at the Beijing 2008 and wrestler Sushil Kumar’s gold at the 2010 world championships in Russia.
As for events exemplifying India’s long romance with badminton, Prakash Padukone’s 1980 All-England triumph -- in a period when the tournament was regarded as an unofficial world championship (though he won at the official worlds in 1983) – will have to be included in this elite list. India’s only other AllEngland champion is her coach Gopichand (2001).
Bindra immediately hailed the victory. “Winning a world championship gold is a fantastic achievement and a great day for Indian sport. I’m sure this will give her intrinsic belief that she can go all the way at Tokyo. Wish her and her entire team the very best,” he said in a statement.
Sushil Kumar was effusive in praise. “Becoming a world champion is a big achievement. Yes, winning an Olympic medal is huge too, but the experience of winning a world championships gold is different,” he told Hindustan Times.
He recalled his triumph over a Russian opponent in his own backyard in the final. “Even now, when I go to Russia, people remember me as a world champion, besides the two Olympic medals. When you beat a worldclass field where you have all the nations competing and get the toughest competition, it is an amazing feeling. Now we have a world champion in badminton too… it can’t get bigger for Indian sport.”
Sunday was the fruition of Sindhu’s never-say-die spirit at the highest level. Her world championships title quest began in 2013, when she finished with bronze and then repeated it the next year. Saina Nehwal almost became the first to the pinnacle in 2015, but lost to Spaniard Carolina Marin in the final.
The younger Sindhu came back stronger, made it to the final in 2017 and 2018, but faltered at the last hurdle. So much so that questions began to be asked if she had a mental block that pegged her back on the biggest stage. Sindhu was especially disheartened after the 2017 defeat to Nozomi Okuhara -- that means the victory on Sunday will taste even sweeter. The world No 3, guided by Gopichand and Korean coach Kim Ji-hyun, showed exemplary tactics in the tournament. Using patterns of attack that confounded her formidable opponents, she overcame Taiwanese world No 1 Tai Tzu Ying in a bitterly fought quarter-final, before crushing China’s Chen Yufei in the semis.
The Badminton Association of India announced prize money of Rs 20 lakh for Sindhu and Rs 5 lakh for Sai Praneeth, who lost in the men’s singles semi-finals on Saturday, but became only the second Indian men’s player, after Padukone, to win a medal at the worlds.