Year of glory for a champion shuttler

WORLD CROWN: Though her performance was patchy rest of the year, PV Sindhu made up for forgettable outings by winning the title that mattered — the World Championships. She has now shifted her focus to the ultimate goal — winning a gold medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics
PV Sindhu(Mohd Zakir/HT PHOTO)
PV Sindhu(Mohd Zakir/HT PHOTO)
Updated on Dec 31, 2019 06:05 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, New Delhi | BySandip Sikdar

PV Sindhu, still catching her breath after her historic victory on August 25, exclaimed “Finally!...I have waited for this victory and finally...World champion!”

It’s the line that defined what has been, inarguably, the greatest moment in the history of Indian badminton. At the St. Jakobshalle Arena in the Swiss city of Basel, the 24-year-old stepped onto the spot where no Indian before her had placed a foot—the winner’s podium at the 2019 World Championships. It took some time — and many heartbreaks — for Sindhu to reach the feat. She had come to this final having lost exactly at this stage twice in the last two years. Add to that the 2016 Olympics final loss. With every defeat, she had grown stronger. In Basel, Sindhu took her opponent in the final apart with near-brutal efficiency. It looked almost like a mismatch. Except it wasn’t. Her opponent, Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara, wasn’t just one of the top players in the world, she was also Sindhu’s conqueror in the 2017 World Championships, in an epic final that can perhaps stake claim to be the most enthralling badminton match in the last few years.

The 2017 final was a gritty, no-holds-barred slugfest that lasted an hour and 50 minutes. Every game went down to the wire. Every point was contested with desperate skill.

A 73-shot rally defined the never-give-up attitude, the sheer skills on display, in this, the longest ever world championship final. Finally, there had to be a loser, and by the narrowest of margins, it was Sindhu.

Sindhu had already known the heartbreak of finishing second best, being one final step away from making history, and then slipping. She had experienced it at the 2016 Rio Olympics badminton women’s singles final, where she lost to Spain’s Carolina Marin.

The silver was historic, better than any Indian badminton player had done at the Games, but still it was not gold. A year later, Marin would hand Sindhu her second defeat at the world championships final.

She was having none of that this year. She had worked for it, adding new skills, a new fitness regimen, new strategies, a new coach. It was evident from Sindhu’s semi-final victory where she destroyed Chinese fourth seed Chen Yufei 21-7, 21-14 in only 40 minutes. The final was even shorter; it lasted 34 minutes.

She has now medalled an incredible five times in six appearances at the World Championships. Her haul of two bronze, two silver and one gold makes her only the second woman after Zhang Ning of China to win five or more medals at the Worlds.

Yet Sindhu’s game has a surprising ebb and flow. If you divide her year into two halves—pre- and post-World Championships—it looks similar.

A string of early exits from tournaments, and just one final (barring the Worlds) out of the 16 competitions she played in this year.

She may exit other tournaments in the first round, but come the World Championships or Olympics, she will be there on the podium, earning her the reputation of being a “big tournament player”.

She had this ability right from the start: A promising player in 2013, an 18-year-old Sindhu stunned the then reigning world champion Wang Yihan in the third round and the 2010 Asian Games champion Wang Shixian in the quarter-finals in their own backyard in Guangzhou, China, to claim a bronze medal on her debut at the World Championships.

A memorable year behind her, Sindhu is already shifted focus towards the next major goal—winning a gold at the Olympics. Can she pull off the same reversal she did at the Worlds?

Can the 2016 Rio defeat spur her to victory at Tokyo 2020? If she brings out the beast in her, like she did at Basel, there’s no stopping the most powerful player in badminton right now.

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