AIM­ING HIGH

THE RISE AND RISE OF P.V. SINDHU

India Today - - INSIDE - By Amar­nath K. Menon

The rise and rise of bad­minton star P.V. Sindhu

SShe is just 24. And de­spite her al­ready stun­ning achieve­ments, Pusarla Venkata Sindhu’s best is likely yet to come. Though she had reached the fi­nals of the Bad­minton World Fed­er­a­tion’s (BWF) World Cham­pi­onships twice be­fore—in 2017 and 2018—she lost on both those oc­ca­sions. This time around, on Au­gust 25, 2019, it took her all of 37 min­utes to be­come the first In­dian world cham­pion in the sport. On the day, not­ing she was the third fe­male player to ever reach the BWF cham­pi­onship fi­nal three times in a row, the knowl­edge­able crowd at St Jakob­shalle arena in Basel, Switzer­land, egged her on, be­liev­ing she richly de­served to be the win­ner. And that her vic­tory came out­play­ing Ja­pan’s No­zomi Okuhara—ranked No. 4 in the world, to whom Sindhu lost the 2017 fi­nal at Glas­gow, in Scot­land—must have made the vic­tory that much sweeter.

“When the match got over, I said

[to my­self], ‘Okay, it’s is over’,” says Sindhu. “I was calm, and I did not shout. It was a spe­cial mo­ment for me—I had done it! After the last point, I had tears in my eyes. Fi­nally, after four at­tempts [at be­com­ing world cham­pion, count­ing the Rio Olympics], I had done it!” Sindhu re­calls the im­mense sat­is­fac­tion she felt that day, her crown­ing mo­ment of glory, when she stood tall on the court, look­ing sky­wards, with both hands raised. For Sindhu, this is a fresh start. She has her sights set higher still—on the glit­ter­ing gold at the Tokyo Olympics next year.

With this win, Sindhu’s fifth medal at the World Cham­pi­onships (hav­ing won a bronze each in 2013 and 2014 and a sil­ver each in 2017 and 2018), she is al­ready one of the best women’s sin­gles play­ers in the his­tory of the show­piece event. Sindhu is now tied for the po­si­tion of high­est medal win­ner in women’s sin­gles, ranked along­side two-time Olympic gold medal win­ner (2004 and 2008) Zhang

“MY LIFE GOAL IS AN OLYMPIC GOLD MEDAL,” SAID SINDHU SEV­ERAL YEARS AGO, WHEN SHE WAS ONLY 15 YEARS OLD

Ning of China, who had an iden­ti­cal tally of medals be­tween 2001 and 2007 in the World Cham­pi­onships.

What sets Sindhu apart from other play­ers—be­yond her tremen­dous craft and ath­leti­cism, which are im­per­a­tives in modern bad­minton—is her mag­nif­i­cent mind­set. Only two other In­di­ans have shown a sim­i­lar ca­pac­ity for ex­cel­lence, ris­ing to the very top in their in­di­vid­ual sports—one be­ing the suzerain of the 64 squares, Viswanatha­n Anand, and the other be­ing sharp­shooter Ab­hi­nav Bin­dra. Oth­ers who have be­come in­di­vid­ual world cham­pi­ons have not been able to dis­play such lev­els of de­ter­mi­na­tion and ded­i­ca­tion—or sus­tain it like her for al­most two decades—with plan­ning and prepa­ra­tion cou­pled with hard work. Qual­i­ties like these are es­sen­tial to both achieve the apex po­si­tion in world rank­ings and to stay a while in that rar­efied at­mos­phere.

Sindhu broke onto the in­ter­na­tional scene in 2013, at the world cham­pi­onship that year. What went into get­ting there and what fol­lowed there­after was the strug­gle to main­tain the rig­or­ous rou­tine that sep­a­rates world-class cham­pi­ons from the also-rans. As the younger daugh­ter of two na­tional-level vol­ley­ball play­ers—P.V. Ra­mana and Vi­jaya—Sindhu be­gan her quest for sport­ing ex­cel­lence early. Along the way, the amaz­ing ex­ploits of the former all-Eng­land cham­pion Pul­lela Gopic­hand—un­der whose tute­lage Sindhu has evolved and grown—no doubt in­spired her, as also per­haps the achieve­ments of Saina Ne­hwal.

Gopic­hand spot­ted Sindhu’s prom­ise early. As he said in 2010, when asked who among the trainees at his then­fledgling acad­emy were likely to be­come fu­ture cham­pi­ons, “a lithe and lanky per­son is sure to go places in bad­minton”. At that time, he sin­gled Sindhu out for her com­mit­ment and fo­cus. “Spend some time talk­ing to her to dis­cover it for yourself,” he said to me, “but do not shoot ques­tions [at her] in the man­ner jour­nal­ists usu­ally do.” Then, he called her over and left me to con­tinue the con­ver­sa­tion with her.

“My life goal is an Olympic gold,” said Sindhu to me that day, then only a 15-year-old. She also added: “Win­ning at the high­est level de­pends, apart from skill, on the abil­ity to turn out the best per­for­mance, to out­wit an op­po­nent on a par­tic­u­lar day.” Since then, Sindhu has evolved in con­fi­dence and con­sis­tency, be­com­ing a pow­er­ful player un­der Gopic­hand’s watch­ful eye. As In­dia’s chief na­tional coach, he de­serves enor­mous credit for the coun­try’s rise as a force in world bad­minton. Now, Sindhu has barely a year to live up to her own words by stick­ing to strat­egy, hon­ing her net skills and de­vel­op­ing new tac­tics to ce­ment her place. “At the top, you have to be smart. It has to be a com­bi­na­tion—your tech­nique, your hit­ting and your men­tal­ity. There are so many skills she has to work on,” says South Korea’s Kim Ji Hyun, Sindhu’s ad­di­tional ex­clu­sive coach since March this year. But given her grit and de­ter­mi­na­tion, Sindhu may well be­come—if Ja­pan’s Akane Ya­m­aguchi, 22 years old and world No. 1, does not dom­i­nate the sport—the sen­sa­tion that In­di­ans have been wait­ing for. With luck, she will keep turn­ing sil­ver into gold. ■

NEW WORLD CHAM­PION Sindhu at the BWF World Cham­pi­onships fi­nal in Basel, Swiz­er­land

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