New Delhi: By the end of Friday, P.V. Sindhu may become an Olympic champion. If she does, Sindhu will be the first woman from India to win an individual Olympic gold medal, which will also be the country’s first in badminton.
Standing in her way will be World No.1 Carolina Marin of Spain, the two-time world and European singles champion, an opponent whom Sindhu considers the toughest she has faced till date.
The 23-year-old Spaniard is a force to reckon with on the badminton court. Marin, who received Spain’s athlete of the year award in 2014, has a 22-5 win-loss record in the year to date. In the semi-finals at Rio, she defeated defending champion and World No. 3 Li Xuerui of China 21-14, 21-16.
Marin also leads the head-to-head encounters against Sindhu 4-2. Both of Sindhu’s victories came in hard-fought, three-game matches, the most recent being the semi-final at the Denmark Open last year.
That said, when World No. 10 Sindhu enters the Riocentro-Pavilion 4 later this evening, she will be full of confidence.
On her way to the finals, the 21-year-old from Hyderabad defeated London Olympics silver medallist and World No. 2 Wang Yihan of China 22-20, 21-19 in the round of eight and World No. 6 Nozomi Okuhara of Japan 21-19, 21-10 in the semi-finals.
She is India’s first badminton player to win back-to-back medals at the World Championships (both bronze). She also has a Commonwealth Games bronze medal in her kitty. Her win-loss record this year stands at 23-13.
Her steady rise in the sport earned Sindhu the Arjuna Award in 2013 and the Padma Shri in 2015.
Marin, who started playing badminton in 2001 after her best friend asked her one day to accompany her to the hall to learn about a new sport, is aggressive on the court and amazingly fast.
She can return almost from every corner of the court and at breathtaking speed. That she is a left hander makes her a tougher opponent to face.
Sindhu’s advantage will be her grit and work-till-you-succeed and never-give-up approach. She is also the taller of the two finalists. And if the last two matches are any indication, she is also a changed player.
Sindhu had a 1-3 win-loss record against Nozomi heading to the semi-finals; her only victory against the Japanese player was in the Asian Youth Under-19 Championship in 2012.
In February, Sindhu lost to Nozomi at the Asian Team Championship on her home soil in Hyderabad. But the Sindhu on court on Thursday was a different player. She wasn’t intimidated by her better ranked opponent. Neither was she overly nervous. She fought volley with volley, return with return till she smashed her way into the finals.
She dominated the second half of the second game and won 11 straight points to win the match.
On Friday the pressure will be immense in her debut Olympics gold medal match and soaring home expectations. But if Sindhu plays the way she has been playing in Rio so far, she could well deliver a third upset on the trot.
And remember, this is Marin’s first final at the Olympics, too.