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PV Sindhu: Olympic silver medallist is the new face of Indian badminton

Rohan Raj | Updated on: 20 August 2016, 13:21 IST

Just like Virat Kohli in cricket, Sania Mirza in tennis and Vijender Singh in boxing, Saina Nehwal's international exploits kept the other players in the shadows while she enjoyed the spotlight as the face of Indian badminton for the past eight years.

If the quarterfinal finish at the 2008 Beijing Olympics announced her arrival, the coveted bronze medal in London four years later, undoubtedly, established her reputation as one of India's best in the international circuit.

But, just like any other sport, the career of a champion is full of twists and turns. And when they stutter, the attention is directed towards the search for another gem in the making. That is exactly the case with Pusarla Venkata Sindhu.

Nehwal's early ouster at the hands of world no. 61 Maria Ulitina following a knee injury handed a crucial blow to India's medal hopes in the Rio Olympics. But, as the medal hopes in badminton faded, Sindhu stepped up to keep the Indian challenge alive.

Sindhu provided India a glimmer of hope when she made the Round of 16 after bouncing back from a game down in her group tie. Then she reached the quarterfinals, only to draw China's Wang Yihan. And, the fans began cherishing the fact that, at least, the ninth-seeded Indian came so far in the tournament.

But, the 21-year-old shocked the world no. 2 and fans alike with a straight-sets win that was far from straight forward. In the semifinal, she would not be denied a shot at the Olympic gold as she dismantled the world no. 6 in two sets.

Apart from her opponents, Sindhu also dismantled records, giving India its first-ever shot at badminton gold, thus outdoing Nehwal, Prakash Padukone, and also her coach Pullela Gopichand.

With the expectations of a billion fans on her shoulders, the 21-year-old took the opportunity and the challenge head on. The Indian shuttler, playing her first-ever Olympics final, matched the world no. 1 Spaniard Carolina Marin for her every stroke before settling for the coveted silver in the summit clash.

Despite losing the final 21-19, 12-21, 15-21, it was Sindhu's courage, temperament and fighting spirit that stands out from rest of the Indian shuttlers in Rio. With a methodical style of play, considered to be defensive - building up with long rallies to lay seize to a point as and when an opening arises, she has evolved remarkably well to streamline her method towards winning.

But, we should have seen it coming. Sindhu announced herself on the world stage in 2013 after claiming a bronze medal at the World Championships. She won her maiden Grand Prix Gold title at the Malaysian Open and went on to win the first of her hat-trick of titles at the Macau Open.

Sindhu created history in 2014 by becoming the first Indian to win back-to-back medals at the World Championships. Her semifinal finish at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow also ensured a bronze medal for the Indian shuttler.

When an athlete makes his or her way up the ladder, all keen and purposeful, with built-up character and technical refinement in tow, it is some morale-boosting victories, high on magnitude, that renders them more confident and replete with self-belief.

In Sindhu's case, her spirited performance in the women's singles final on a stage as big as the Olympics could surely be an indicative of her relentless refinement. And, for a 17-year-old who watched Nehwal win the elusive bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics, Sindhu has clearly come a long way to step out of the shadows of Super Saina.

First published: 20 August 2016, 13:21 IST
 
Rohan Raj @ro4an_raj

After a poor stint in gully-cricket quashed his hopes of turning pro, Rohan moved away from the playing field and began criticising those who were still on it. Football eases his mind and watching City paint Manchester blue is his elusive dream. When not talking, thinking or dreaming about sports, Rohan can be found listening to EDM or watching movies. A sports correspondent at Catch News, he has previously worked with Hindustan Times, Daily Bhaskar and India Today.

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