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Sindhu says she has got everything to gain, nothing to lose yet. Photo: STR/AFP
Sindhu says she has got everything to gain, nothing to lose yet. Photo: STR/AFP

PV Sindhu: A new queen on the court

World badminton has a new rising star in PV Sindhu. And she is just getting started

P.V. Sindhu is getting used to winning, and it’s a feeling she loves. She just turned 18, and already she is the first Indian woman to win a singles medal at the Badminton World Federation (BWF) World Championships in Guangzhou, China, where she grabbed a bronze last week.

It’s only the third time that an Indian has won a medal at the World Championships. The last time a singles player won it was in 1983, when Prakash Padukone got a bronze. In 2011, Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa won a bronze in women’s doubles.

It’s an achievement that few can dream of, but Sindhu doesn’t have to wait for the feeling to sink in, nor is she overwhelmed by the news that she has been given the Arjuna Award.

“Really?" She asks with a big smile, when a friend breaks the news to her in the lobby of a Delhi hotel on Wednesday evening. “That’s so good! My father will be so happy. It’s like some family tradition."

Sindhu’s father, P.V. Ramana, a former volleyball international who was part of the bronze medal-winning squad for the 1986 Asian Games, is also a Arjuna awardee.

Sindhu is in Delhi for the Indian Badminton League, riding on the wave of beating some of the best players in the world at Guangzhou, before losing out to Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon, the eventual winner, in the semi-finals.

“It was such a fantastic experience for me," Sindhu says in her usual cheerful way. “I had no pressure. I just wanted to play well, be happy, and fight hard. I did not think of who I was going to come up against, but of course, there is nothing better than beating the Chinese."

Sindhu, ranked 12 in the world, beat World No.5 Wang Yihan, the defending champion and 2012 Olympic silver medallist, and World No.8 Wang Shixian.

Combine that with her stunning victory over World No.1 Li Xuerui—the reigning Olympic Champion—last September at the Li Ning China Masters, and the lanky Hyderabadi has beaten every one of the Chinese players in the top 10 of the world rankings.

“I have been saying for a long time that she is a fantastic talent, and she has the potential to beat anybody," says Pullela Gopi Chand, the former All England Badminton Champion and the chief coach of the Indian team on phone from Hyderabad. “We have been carefully giving her the right kind of exposure. We didn’t want to thrust too many international competitions on her too early, but we wanted her to play just enough to get a feel of what it is like."

Now, Gopi Chand says, Sindhu is ready. She has crossed over the awkward growth phase and is now at her full height, which means that she has more control and consistency in her court movement, and is more familiar with her reach.

“She has also worked hard on the physical side of things," Gopi Chand says. “She is getting stronger and fitter."

Sindhu announced her arrival on the international stage this year with her maiden Grand Prix Gold title at the Malaysia GP, beating World No.24 Juan Gu of Singapore in the final, in a match that captured Sindhu’s many qualities on court.

“Her main weapon is her very, very powerful smash," says Madhumita Bisht, former Olympian and part of the Indian team’s coaching staff. “Her net play is measured and cool, she keeps her composure through long rallies, and has the confidence to keep waiting for her chance in the rallies. Now her footwork is improving rapidly. She will be a complete player."

That Sindhu was meant for great things was apparent to her parents early on. She started playing badminton with the other children in her neighbourhood when she was 8.

“She would play and play and keep on playing," Ramana says on the phone from Hyderabad. “So we asked her, do you want to learn properly?"

The answer came without any hesitation, and Sindhu was taken to a local coaching centre in Secunderabad, where the family lived till last year. Within a year, Sindhu’s parents and her coach could see clearly that Sindhu was brilliant with a racket in her hand.

“So I took her to the Gopichand Academy," says Ramana. “It was the happiest day of her life. She was so excited about being at an academy."

This was in 2004, and for the next four years, Sindhu and her family followed a gruelling schedule—driving 120km a day, twice a day, to get from Secunderabad to Gachibowli in Hyderabad, for the morning and evening sessions at the academy.

“Sindhu spent 4-5 hours just in the car everyday," Ramana says. “And then she had school, she had homework…it was a tough time."

But Sindhu never felt that way. On days she missed a training session, she would be gloomy and irritable. “She just wanted to be on the court all the time," Ramana says.

In 2008, when Gopichand Academy’s hostel facilities came up, Sindhu moved in. Last year her parents shifted to Gachibowli as well.

“Now I travel 120km everyday to get to work," Ramana chuckles.

Sindhu has already won everything that there is to win at the junior level—all the national titles at all age groups starting from the Under-10 level, an U-19 Asian Championship bronze, and a Junior Asian Championship bronze.

But that is already a distant past. She has taken the giant step into international badminton, and the pressure on her will be relentless.

“No pressure," she says. “It’s all good. I’ve got everything to gain, nothing to lose yet."

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