P V Sindhu's performance is worth its weight in gold

PV Sindhu plays a shot against Japan's Nozomi Okuhara during the women's singles semifinal match at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Photo: PTI
For people who have seen India struggle at the Olympics over the last two decades, it’s extremely hard to describe P V Sindhu’s performance in the semi final at Rio Olympics 2016. Here was a 21-year-old Indian girl dishing out badminton lessons to an opponent ranked higher than her. This isn’t supposed to be a part of the script – this is the Olympics where Indians come, fight hard, come close to winning medals but agonizingly fall short. Not this time though– not with Sindhu in scintillating form and showcasing her talent to the world. 

Indian sport fans over the years — especially at the Olympics — have come to expect a certain kind of performance, behavior and body language from Indian athletes at the highest level. But there was something different about Sindhu — she was different, aggressive, and assertive and went for the kill. 

It’s strange and uncanny as badminton is a sport that is not taken seriously in India. Partly because after cricket it is one sport which most of us have played — be it in the compound of our society, in school or perhaps a bit at amateur level.  But it’s a sport where there is a sense of discerning entitlement. It’s a sport where there is a sense of familiarity and perhaps badminton is one sport where most Indian fans were expecting a medal — not because of Sindhu but because of Saina Nehwal. 

Sindhu assuring herself of a medal is the biggest story to come out of Rio 2016 for India. Nehwal succumbed to an injury and couldn’t deliver, but Sindhu has quietly done the business and earned a shot at winning a gold medal in the Olympics. No other Indian woman has done better in the history of Olympics and Sindhu has already surpassed that achievement as she is assured of a silver medal. 

The last 24 hours have been a whirlwind for Indian sports fans. While most of us were in deep slumber, Sakshi Malik gave her countrymen a delightful surprise by winning a bronze in 58 kg wrestling category. But the main event, which people were waiting with bated breath, was Sindhu’s quarterfinal. And she didn’t disappoint — her performance against her Japanese opponent was nothing short of spectacular. Was it a shock victory or an upset? Not really — as Sindhu beat the world number 2 Yihan Wang in the quarterfinal.

Still, it was an uphill task as she was playing world number 5 Nozomi Okohura in the semi final. The odds weren’t really in her favour as Okohura was the better ranked player. But Sindhu displayed a streak of aggression throughout the match that her opponent struggled to cope with and won 21-20 21-10. In the second set she won 11 straight points to seal her spot in the final of the Olympics. 

Over the last few years, Sindhu’s stock has quietly but confidentlyhas gone upwards. She is the natural heiress to Saina Nehwal’s throne. Nehwal has been phenomenal in the last 10 years for Indian badminton and four years back even won the bronze medal in London Olympics.

Two years ago, this writer asked Sindhu about her so-called rivalry with Saina Nehwal, but she shrugged off by saying that “there isn’t any rivalry but just intensity of competition”. Even Nehwal has been complementary about Sindhu’s performance and it has been heartening to see two Indian women fighting for glory in the world of badminton. 

While Saina did bring India laurels four years ago in London, Sindhu has already bettered her performance. However, this isn’t between Saina and Sindhu as both women have been exceptional athletes for India. Rio 2016, however, has been the story of Sindhu – her talent, hard work and dedication. The entire country will be hoping that she makes the impossible dream come true. An Indian woman winning a gold medal at the Olympics? That’s what fairytales are made of. 

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