When PV Sindhu quashed ‘Silver Sindhu’ tag to become India’s golden girl

After losing successive World Championships finals, PV Sindhu beat Nozomi Okuhara in 2019 to win India's first gold at the event.

PV Sindhu in a file photo; Credit: Twitter

The poster girl for Indian badminton, PV Sindhu, had to jump over multiple hurdles, overcome several heartbreaks to finally cross the finishing line in a major tournament. Emerging from the shadows of Saina Nehwal, the 25-year-old Hyderabad shuttler has been one of the top players in the sport. With hardly any weaknesses in her game, there is not a player she cannot beat on a given day. But the biggest problem she faced was taking the final leap to win the title of a big tournament.

Sindhu had reached multiple finals in the past few years, starting with the Rio Olympics final defeat against Carolina Marin before losing out to her again at the 2018 World Championships. Nozomi Okuhara had beaten her to gold at the 2017 World Championships. She then fell to Tai Tzu Ying at the 2018 Asian Games and also lost to her compatriot Saina Nehwal in the 2018 Commonwealth Games final.

It created additional pressure on the Hyderabadi shuttler. Some went as far as calling her “Silver Sindhu” – quite unfairly too! Undeterred by the recent disappointments, Sindhu entered Basel with one task and one alone – to get her hands on the gold. And win it she did, in some style, easing past Okuhara in the final 21-7, 21-7.

“In the World Championships, it was my third final, I have also won two bronze. I thought I have to win this at any cost. I was so desperate to win the title. I did not want people to say she lost in final again,” Sindhu had later revealed her mentality going into the title clash.

Mission gold

Her quest for the title began with a straight forward victory against Taiwan’s Yu-Po Pai. The Indian shuttler won the encounter 21-14, 21-15 without ever having to step it up a notch.

Her real challenge, however, came in the next round against American shuttler Beiwen Zhang. It was to Zhang she had fallen to in the finals of the India Open in 2018. After a tight battle, Sindhu bagged the first game 21-14 before running riot in the second 21-6 to set up a quarterfinal date against Tai Tzu Ying.

It was her biggest test in the tournament. Sindhu had conceded the Asian Games gold to then World No. 2 Tai Tzu Ying in 2018. The fifth seeded Indian shuttler found the going tough as the Chinese Taipei veteran comfortably won the first game 21-12.

It felt like deja vu but not for Sindhu. She had other plans! The Rio 2016 Olympics silver medallist went on the offensive, using her powerful smashes to her strength, preventing Tai Tzu Ying to build any momentum. The Indian held her nerve to win closely fought games to emerge victorious with a 12-21, 23-21, 21-19 scoreline.

Buoyed by her emphatic come-from-behind victory, Sindhu went into her semifinal clash against China’s Chen Yufei all guns blazing. She went on the attack from the first point and not allowing her opponent to settle. With barely any time to breathe, Chen Yufei surrendered the opening game 21-7.

The Chinese did start the second positively, adapting an all-out attack approach but Sindhu was defensive when needed and pounced on her mistakes to see out the game 21-7, 21-14 in the end.

Third consecutive final

After sailing into her third successive final, the Indian shuttler was eager to get rid of the moniker “Silver Sindhu”. Standing in her way was Japanese sensation Nozomi Okuhara.

In 2017 final, Sindhu had lost to Okuhara in a heart-breaking fashion 19-21, 22-20, 20-22. Fast forward two years and the Hyderabad shuttler had put the painful defeat behind her. Her focus was spot-on as she turned up the heat from the word-go, making life extremely difficult for the Japanese player.

She cleverly made Okuhara, who was worn out after her three-game long semifinal against Indonesian Ratchanok Intanon, chase the shuttle all over the court. The strategy helped her bag the first game with little difficulty.

The Japanese tried to put up a fight in the second but Sindhu, with momentum on her side, was never troubled for long. The Indian continued to dominate the game before wrapping up the match with her trademark smash which Okuhara could only push into the net. She deservedly became the women’s singles world champion with a 21-7, 21-7 victory in just 38 minutes.

The gold medal banished the demons of her previous finals. It was fitting that Sindhu provided a long-awaited moment for Indian badminton to become the first shuttler from the country to win the coveted World Championships gold.

It also helped her equal two-time Olympic gold medallist Zhang Ning’s record of five medals at the event. Prior to this gold, the Indian shuttler had won two bronze and two silver medals in the competition.

August 25, 2019 will forever be remembered as a historical day in Indian badminton, all thanks to the resilience shown by PV Sindhu.

Karthik Raman

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