P.V. Sindhu is a name that needs no introduction among sports enthusiasts across the world. In India, she is not merely a celebrity, but a sports icon and an inspiration to millions and millions. The mere mention of her name would lead to the distinct emergence of the image of a quintessential champion who can rule the badminton court, make the shuttle talk and make her country proud…
The 5-foot-10-inch tall, dusky, graceful and soft-spoken lady with a disarming smile belies her nerves of steel. Neither does her unassuming down-to-earth demeanor give any indication of her astonishing success story, one spurred by her awesome talent, grit and sustained and systematic perseverance.
First, Second and Only
Pusarla Venkata Sindhu, perhaps the most famous badminton player from India, is the only female from India to win two medals in Olympics. She won a silver in the Rio Olympics (2016) in the women’s singles, and a bronze in the recently concluded Tokyo Olympics in the same event. In the 2019 World Championships, held in Basel, Switzerland, she won a gold medal by defeating Nozomi Okuhara, which made her the first Indian to win a gold in the BWF World Championships.
Sindhu is also only the second woman badminton player in the world after Zhang Ning from China to win five or more medals in the World Championships. What is more jaw-dropping is that, other than in 2015, Sindhu won a medal in every BWF World Championships since 2013.
Passion to Shuttle
Hailing from Hyderabad (the capital of Telangana state of India), the journey of Sindhu towards success, of course, had its share of tears and sweats, but it helped that her parents were also sportspersons. Her father P.V. Ramana and her mother P. Vijaya were both national level volleyball players.
“The fact that my parents were sportspersons themselves helped me to get drawn to sports since childhood, and I felt badminton was meant for me,” she said. “My parents have always motivated, guided and supported me throughout my journey, and having them through my ups and downs is what keeps me going.”
Sindhu, who began playing badminton at the age of eight and entered the international circuit at the tender age of 14, began showing her potential when she went on to win a bronze medal at the 2009 Sub-Junior Asian Badminton Championships, held in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
Despite winning countless medals across the world, Sindhu cannot forget the inexplicable feeling after winning her first major international tournament.
“I still remember that moment, me standing at the podium for the first time, watching the Indian flag go up. I was emotional and proud of myself,” she said, her voice muffled.
The Olympian Recollects
The 26-year-old also remembers the ecstatic feeling of winning her first Olympic medal.
“Rio was my first time at the Olympics. I really had no idea what the atmosphere would be like at such a huge event. But then, having been through that journey, coming home with silver was a dream-like feeling for me,” Sindhu recollected.
During the Rio Olympics, Sindhu, along with coach and mentor Gopichand, constructed a net with towels in their rooms in the Olympic village and practiced rigorously, day and night.
At Gopichand’s insistence she practiced one particular shot for months, for hours and hours at a stretch (the backhand cross court defensive block) before their arrival at the Rio Olympics. She perfected the block during her match with Michelle Li of Canada.
In Rio, she reached the finals of the women’s singles, before losing to the then top-seeded Carolina Marin of Spain. The three-set match went for 83 minutes.
“The final was definitely a battle, and Carolina is a tough and immensely talented player. Though I didn’t give up till the end, it wasn’t my day,” she says. “But I like to look at it like I didn’t lose the gold medal, I won the silver.”
Sindhu is still trying to get over the momentous realization that she did win another medal in her second Olympic Games.
“It is an amazing feeling. I am still getting goose bumps… I keep thinking ‘I just won another medal at the Olympics, I did it again.’ It is five years of constant perseverance that got me the medal,” she said.
By August 28, Sindhu had secured a place for herself in the pre-quarterfinals of the Tokyo Olympics. In the Olympics, the champion badminton player reached round 16 by defeating Hong Kong’s Cheung Ngan Yi 21-9, 21-16. On July 29, she reached the badminton women singles quarter-finals by trouncing Denmark’s Mia Blichfeldt 21-15, 21-13. She then defeated Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi in the quarter-finals 21-13, 22-20. However, in the semi-finals, Sindhu lost to Taiwan’s Tai Tzu-ying 18-21, 12-21.
“After the loss in the semi-finals, I was upset, but it was important for me to not let my emotions get in the way,” she says. “My coach was telling me, ‘It is okay. You have still got one more game to get a medal, so do not lose hope.’ During the bronze medal game, I was telling myself that there is a difference between a bronze medal and fourth place. So, I went in with the mindset that ‘a podium finish is a podium finish’ and gave my 100 percent.”
Sindhu won the bronze medal in the Tokyo Olympics, defeating He Bingjiao of China 21-13, 21-15. By doing so, she also achieved the distinction of becoming only the fourth player in badminton in women’s singles to win medals in two consecutive Olympic Games.
Talking of Tokyo Olympics, Sindhu said that she knew the competition at the Tokyo Olympics would be extremely tough and that she was prepared for that.
“Having to face Akane Yamaguchi in the quarter-finals, followed by Tai-Tzu Zing in the semi-finals, was never expected to be easy,” she pointed out.
They Bring out the Best in Her
Sindhu considers Tai-Tzu Zing, Ratchanok Intanon , Carolina Marin, Nozomi Okuhara , Akane Yamaguchi among her toughest competitors.
Still, Sindhu defeated Nozumi Okuhara in the semi-finals of the 2016 Olympics, held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to reach the finals. In the 2017 World Championships final, Sindhu lost to Nozomi Okuhara from Japan in the second-longest women’s singles match in the history of badminton. The match lasted for 110 minutes.
In the 2019 BWF World Championships final held in Basel, Switzerland, she again triumphed over Nozomi Okuhara to win the gold medal in the women’s singles.
Sindhu praised the Telangana state government for giving her adequate facilities to prepare for the Tokyo Olympics. She said the opportunity given to the badminton contingent for the Tokyo Olympics to train at the indoor stadium at Gachibowli was “incredibly helpful” for her. Gachibowli is a corporate hub in Hyderabad.
“The training there helped me control the shuttle a bit better,” Sindhu says. “I think the stadium has infrastructure and facilities similar to many other international stadia, including the stadium in Tokyo. So I did get help during my preparation for Tokyo Olympics, especially during the pandemic, which enabled me to work on my technique.”
Relaxed and Ready
At the time of our interaction, Sindhu said, “Right now, I am just enjoying the moment, spending time with my family. Maybe I will go on a vacation.” But that doesn’t indicate that she has plans to rest on her laurels. She is earnestly looking for improving her performance further in the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
“Paris 2024 is the next big goal and I will be working to improve my skill sets, and will also be participating in all the upcoming future tournaments to prepare myself better,” she said.
Excelling in any physically demanding sport at the highest level rests on four broad pillars — hard work, technique, talent, and fitness.
Sindhu, as expected, puts great emphasis on fitness for excelling in sports.
“I need to get a feel of how my body is responding for the first couple of days and then plan out my on-court training schedule. I usually work on my skills, technique and also ways to improve my physical fitness on a daily basis. To be able to play at my best, I have to ensure my fitness is at its best,” the Olympic medalist affirmed.
Asked about her future goals, the lady of few words simply replied, “I wish to work hard and give my best.”
Riches and Recognitions
With earnings of 8.5 million USD in 2018 and 5.5 million USD in 2019, Sindhu has made it to the Forbes‘ list of Highest-Paid Female Athletes in 2018 and 2019.Sindhu is the recipient of the Padma Shri (India’s fourth-highest civilian award), the Padma Bhushan (India’s third-highest civilian award) and the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award (the highest sporting honor of the Republic of India. It has now been renamed the Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna Award).