Rio Olympics: Sindhu loses badminton final, but wins hearts, silver4 min read . Updated: 20 Aug 2016, 01:40 AM IST
Spain's Carolina Marin wins 19-21, 21-12, 21-15 against India's PV Sindhu in the women's singles badminton final match at Rio Olympic Games
New Delhi: P.V. Sindhu’s dream of becoming the first Indian woman to win an Olympic gold medal ended in an agonizing defeat to world no. 1 Carolina Marin of Spain in the badminton final on Friday.
The 21-year-old from Hyderabad had to be content with the first Olympic silver won by an Indian woman after squandering a one-game lead to go down 21-19, 12-21, 15-21.
A failed return, fall on the knees, a shake of the head and it was all over for Sindhu at the end. On the other side of the net was a celebratory scream followed by tears of joy.
The Indian world no. 10 came tantalizingly close to winning an Olympic gold medal on her debut, but was overpowered at the end by Marin, a two-time world and European singles champion, who was also playing her first singles final at the Olympics.
Although she lost the match, Sindhu captured the imagination of the entire nation by advancing to the final. Only one Indian individual has won a gold medal at the Olympics—shooter Abhinav Bindra in the men’s 10m air rifle event at the Beijing Games in 2008. Bindra came close to winning a medal this year, finally finishing fourth.
Earlier in the day, World No.6 Nozomi Okuhara of Japan won the bronze medal after her opponent, Li Xuerui of China (World No.3), pulled out of the match with an injury.
The 119-strong Indian contingent has only won one other medal at the Rio Games so far—a bronze for Sakshi Malik in the 58kg class women’s freestyle wrestling. India won six medals (two silver and four bronze) at the 2012 London games, the most from one edition of the Olympics.
Friday’s badminton final was tough. Marin, 23, is a force to reckon with on the badminton court, an opponent whom Sindhu considers the toughest she has faced till date. Marin has a 22-5 win-loss record in the year to date, according to the Badminton World Federation website.
In the semi-finals in Rio, she defeated defending champion Xuerui of China 21-14, 21-16. Marin also led the head-to-head encounters against Sindhu 4-2 leading to the finals.
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.
On Friday, she kept Sindhu on her feet, returning her smashes from all parts of the court with the trademark screams that she uses to intimidate opponents.
Marin came back strongly from one game down to win the second game 21-12 in 22 minutes. Sindhu had won the first game 21-19 in 27 minutes.
The match had a delayed start and the Spaniard looked aggressive from the beginning, racing away to a 11-6 lead, covering the court with amazing speed. Sindhu looked under pressure and trailed 16-18 before winning five points on the trot to wrap up the first game.
Sindhu lost the momentum at the start of the second game, going down 0-4 as Spanish fans rooted for Marin. Chants of ‘India, India’ were on the rise at the Riocentro-Pavilion 4 as Sindhu fought back to 5-11 before eventually losing the game 12-21.
Early in the third game, Marin showed the world why she is the top-ranked women’s singles player and raced away to a 6-1 lead.
On the sidelines, Sindhu’s coach P. Gopichand seemed like a ball of nervous energy, rocking back and forth in his chair and muttering under his breath.
Sindhu, five points adrift minutes earlier, squared the third game at 10-all.
Points kept changing hands thick and fast. At one point the Spaniard led 16-12 but Sindhu kept clawing back and won the next two points. A long rally followed but Marin stretched her lead again to 17-14, and wrapped up the game 21-15 in 31 minutes to seal the gold medal.
When Sindhu’s return failed her on match point, Indian supporters at Riocentro-Pavilion 4 went absolutely silent. But in a matter of seconds, the crowd started cheering Sindhu for what she had managed to achieve—the first silver finish by an Indian woman.
On her way to the finals, Sindhu had defeated London Olympics silver medallist and World No. 2 Wang Yihan of China 22-20, 21-19 in the round of eight and Japan’s Okuhara of 21-19, 21-10 in the semi-finals.
India’s previous best performance in badminton at the Olympics has been the bronze medal that Saina Nehwal won in London in 2012. Sindhu was a teenager then, watching the Games on television.
Sindhu is India’s first badminton player to win back-to-back medals at the World Championships (both bronze). She broke into the Badminton World Federation’s top 20 rankings in 2012, defeating Olympic gold medallist Li in the quarter-finals of the China Masters. In 2014, she won the bronze medal in the singles at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, and a bronze in the team event at the Asian Games in Incheon. Her steady rise in the sport earned Sindhu the Arjuna Award in 2013 and the Padma Shri in 2015.
Sindhu learnt her craft at the Gopichand Academy in Hyderabad, run by the former All-England champion Gopichand, who is now the head coach of the Indian badminton team.
Gopichand predicted that Sindhu would be one of the world’s top players when she was just 16. By 17, she was winning national tournaments.
Now, with the Rio Games behind her, Sindhu will be gunning for gold at Tokyo Olympics in 2020. On the way, she also wants to achieve the World No.1 ranking.