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Tokyo Olympics: My confidence has gone up, says Sindhu ahead of knockout ties

PV Sindhu, the reigning world champion, showed she was in no mood to linger as she won 21-9, 21-16 and moved to the round of 16.
By Avishek Roy, Tokyo
UPDATED ON JUL 28, 2021 10:17 PM IST
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PV Sindhu competes against Cheung Ngan Yi. (Getty Images)

After a quick shadow practice, PV Sindhu was ready. Across the net was N Y Cheung from Hong Kong, a player with one career title to Sindhu’s 15. Barring a stutter midway into the second game, Sindhu, the reigning world champion, showed she was in no mood to linger. She won 21-9, 21-16 and moved to the round of 16.

Not too long ago in another court, Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara was stretched by Evgeniya Kosetskaya of the Russian Olympic Committee. Okuhara, the All England Champion and one who has caused Sindhu enough heartburn, has a lot of pressure to deal with. An Olympics at home -- crowd or now crowd – can be intimidating.

Sindhu’s burden is not light either. From Rio to Tokyo, through an Olympic silver and world title, she has been under scrutiny on and off the court. On the court because of indifferent form going to the Olympics, off it because her face is on billboards and in television advertisements; she has nearly 3 million followers on Twitter and 1.8m on Instagram.

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She accepts the pressure that comes with her stature. “There will be pressure and you should know how to deal with it. When you go on to the court, you want to keep the pressure away, you have to be focused. Whatever the situation during the match, you have to just let it go and stay in the present,” she said on Wednesday.

Unlike many young stars, Sindhu wears stardom lightly. She learned to navigate through it early having been touted as one for the future, the heir to Saina Nehwal. Successive silver medals at the world championships before gold in 2019 means the statuesque shuttler has been in the final of every world or Olympic event since 2016.

En route she too has changed. From a shy teenager, speaking to the media in one-liners, Sindhu is a battle-hardened athlete forged by the challenges of an unforgiving, at times brutal, badminton circuit.

“A lot has changed in these last four years. In Rio I was 21, now I am 26!,” Sindhu said with a laugh. “Personally, experience-wise, responsibility-wise, it is different. My confidence level has gone up.

“I am feeling good. Coming out of the group stage was important, I am happy about it. From now on, every match is going to be a knockout and I can say I am ready,” she said.

What has also changed is her coach. Pullela Gopichand, under whom she won the Rio silver, is no longer court-side. Sindhu has been training under Korean coach Park Tae-sang for some time. In Hyderabad, she practised at the Gachibowli Indoor Stadium and not at Gopichand’s academy where she had learnt the ropes.

That was because training in a bigger stadium would provide the right setting for matches in Tokyo, Sindhu said. “At Gachibowli, because it is big you get to know the shuttle control and wind. It has always been the same here when we play in the Japan Open at this venue. So, from the point of view of preparation it was an important step.”

The break due to the pandemic too has helped. “It has always been about coming from one tournament and preparing for the next. This long gap gave me the time to work on my technique and skills,” she said. The absence of defending champion and friend Carolina Marin has made Sindhu the biggest draw here. But the women’s singles badminton field is intensely competitive. The endurance and tenacity of Okuhara and Akane Yamaguchi, the deceptive skills of Tai Tzu Ying and a Sindhu intent on attack does make for a riveting contest.

But to get deeper in the draw, Sindhu will first need to see off Denmark’s World No. 12 Mia Blichfledt of Denmark on Thursday.

On Wednesday, Sindhu had a near-perfect game. Her court-coverage was good, she worked the angles well and dictated the tempo. And when she did struggle, Sindhu swiftly seized control.

“In the second game today, it was getting difficult to control the shuttle. There were so many enforced errors, four five clears went out. I told myself to just be there and focus on one point at a time,” said Sindhu.

Sindhu predicted a tough contest against Blichfledt. “Mia is an aggressive player and I need to be aggressive too. It is going to be a tough match, and I am prepared for that. There will be no easy points,” she said.

With India’s medal hopes badly hit in shooting, Sindhu acknowledged there was greater expectation from her.

“The hype for the Olympics is going to be there. This time it came every five years. They(fans) might think it is easy, I am sure they are showing their love and want us to win but sometimes it just may not be our day. If you have given your best on the day, there will be no regret. People might say things, you see that happening in social media and all but at the end of the day it is the Olympics and everybody would want to give their 100 per cent,” she said.

The venue is not new to her but Sindhu was missing the crowd. “The vibe is missing. It’s the Olympics. I have played here in the Japan Open. The stadium is never full but there are enough people in the stand to make an atmosphere. It feels a bit different.”

It was hard not to ask her about Gopichand, the super coach who has mentored both Sindhu and Nehwal. During the 2019 world championships, Sindhu trained under Kim-ju Hyun and after she left, Park has been her coach. Does she miss Gopichand's presence here? “Park has been my coach for one-and-half years now. We have worked together and learnt new things,” said Sindhu.

After a quick shadow practice, PV Sindhu was ready. Across the net was N Y Cheung from Hong Kong, a player with one career title to Sindhu’s 15. Barring a stutter midway into the second game, Sindhu, the reigning world champion, showed she was in no mood to linger. She won 21-9, 21-16 and moved to the round of 16.

Not too long ago in another court, Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara was stretched by Evgeniya Kosetskaya of the Russian Olympic Committee. Okuhara, the All England Champion and one who has caused Sindhu enough heartburn, has a lot of pressure to deal with. An Olympics at home -- crowd or now crowd – can be intimidating.

Sindhu’s burden is not light either. From Rio to Tokyo, through an Olympic silver and world title, she has been under scrutiny on and off the court. On the court because of indifferent form going to the Olympics, off it because her face is on billboards and in television advertisements; she has nearly 3 million followers on Twitter and 1.8m on Instagram.

RELATED STORIES

Also Read | Tokyo Olympics: Deepika keeps medal hopes alive, makes last-16; Rai, Jadhav exit

She accepts the pressure that comes with her stature. “There will be pressure and you should know how to deal with it. When you go on to the court, you want to keep the pressure away, you have to be focused. Whatever the situation during the match, you have to just let it go and stay in the present,” she said on Wednesday.

Unlike many young stars, Sindhu wears stardom lightly. She learned to navigate through it early having been touted as one for the future, the heir to Saina Nehwal. Successive silver medals at the world championships before gold in 2019 means the statuesque shuttler has been in the final of every world or Olympic event since 2016.

En route she too has changed. From a shy teenager, speaking to the media in one-liners, Sindhu is a battle-hardened athlete forged by the challenges of an unforgiving, at times brutal, badminton circuit.

“A lot has changed in these last four years. In Rio I was 21, now I am 26!,” Sindhu said with a laugh. “Personally, experience-wise, responsibility-wise, it is different. My confidence level has gone up.

“I am feeling good. Coming out of the group stage was important, I am happy about it. From now on, every match is going to be a knockout and I can say I am ready,” she said.

What has also changed is her coach. Pullela Gopichand, under whom she won the Rio silver, is no longer court-side. Sindhu has been training under Korean coach Park Tae-sang for some time. In Hyderabad, she practised at the Gachibowli Indoor Stadium and not at Gopichand’s academy where she had learnt the ropes.

That was because training in a bigger stadium would provide the right setting for matches in Tokyo, Sindhu said. “At Gachibowli, because it is big you get to know the shuttle control and wind. It has always been the same here when we play in the Japan Open at this venue. So, from the point of view of preparation it was an important step.”

The break due to the pandemic too has helped. “It has always been about coming from one tournament and preparing for the next. This long gap gave me the time to work on my technique and skills,” she said. The absence of defending champion and friend Carolina Marin has made Sindhu the biggest draw here. But the women’s singles badminton field is intensely competitive. The endurance and tenacity of Okuhara and Akane Yamaguchi, the deceptive skills of Tai Tzu Ying and a Sindhu intent on attack does make for a riveting contest.

But to get deeper in the draw, Sindhu will first need to see off Denmark’s World No. 12 Mia Blichfledt of Denmark on Thursday.

On Wednesday, Sindhu had a near-perfect game. Her court-coverage was good, she worked the angles well and dictated the tempo. And when she did struggle, Sindhu swiftly seized control.

“In the second game today, it was getting difficult to control the shuttle. There were so many enforced errors, four five clears went out. I told myself to just be there and focus on one point at a time,” said Sindhu.

Sindhu predicted a tough contest against Blichfledt. “Mia is an aggressive player and I need to be aggressive too. It is going to be a tough match, and I am prepared for that. There will be no easy points,” she said.

With India’s medal hopes badly hit in shooting, Sindhu acknowledged there was greater expectation from her.

“The hype for the Olympics is going to be there. This time it came every five years. They(fans) might think it is easy, I am sure they are showing their love and want us to win but sometimes it just may not be our day. If you have given your best on the day, there will be no regret. People might say things, you see that happening in social media and all but at the end of the day it is the Olympics and everybody would want to give their 100 per cent,” she said.

The venue is not new to her but Sindhu was missing the crowd. “The vibe is missing. It’s the Olympics. I have played here in the Japan Open. The stadium is never full but there are enough people in the stand to make an atmosphere. It feels a bit different.”

It was hard not to ask her about Gopichand, the super coach who has mentored both Sindhu and Nehwal. During the 2019 world championships, Sindhu trained under Kim-ju Hyun and after she left, Park has been her coach. Does she miss Gopichand's presence here? “Park has been my coach for one-and-half years now. We have worked together and learnt new things,” said Sindhu.

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