PV Sindhu: From an afterthought to a champion
Published on March 13, 2015 15:43:34 PM
Till a few years ago, Pusarla Venkata Sindhu was an afterthought in Indian badminton. The women’s game was dominated by her senior colleague and Olympic bronze medallist Saina Nehwal, and the lanky teen from Hyderabad lurked somewhere in the background. Her name featured on the list of contenders when Forbes India drew up its first 30 Under 30 list in 2013. But could she be called the next big thing in the game? We weren’t convinced.
Six months later, the then 18-year-old became the first Indian woman ever to win a medal in the World Championships in Guangzhou, beating top Chinese shuttlers Wang Yihan and Wang Shixian. She repeated her feat in 2014, and then some more, winning two bronze medals in the Copenhagen edition of the event. And that wasn’t it.
For Sindhu, 2014 was studded with bronze medals from various international competitions: At the team events at Uber Cup and the Incheon Asiad, and at the ladies singles event at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. She capped the year gloriously, defending the Macau Open and finishing as the No 11 shuttler in the world. By the time we put our heads together for our 30 Under 30 list for 2014, Sindhu was a unanimous choice for us and our judges.
"Yes, 2013 and 2014 have been very good. I think every year, I have been playing better than the previous year,” says Sindhu of her rising career graph.
What’s the secret sauce, we ask her. Hard work and a constant quest for improvement, she says. Despite a dream run in the last two years, Sindhu is talking only in terms of learning more: Waking up at 4.15 am every day, going through several sessions of practice and perfecting her strokes over and over again.
The recently-concluded Malaysia Masters Grand Prix showed her net game has gone up by a few notches. But the semifinal loss to Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara, to whom she had earlier lost at the Hong Kong Open too, was a reality check.
"Each and every player in international badminton has her day. You need to be ready for everybody,” she says. "I want to be the No 1 player and win the world and the All England championships.”
Her ability to work hard is one of her biggest USPs, says coach and former All England champion Pullela Gopichand, under whom Sindhu has been training since 2008. "She is a workhorse. She can work for long hours and pick up fast. It makes her a great learner,” he says. While he lauds Sindhu for taking big strides on the international stage, he knows every aspect of her game can be improved further. "While she has been consistent and successful in recent years, she needs to be mentally stronger and more agile.”
The field of women’s badminton is wide open these days with talented players from China, Japan, Chinese Taipei and Thailand jostling for the top spot. Sindhu needs to adapt to various styles of play to match up to their standards and make her Olympic dreams a reality. Rio 2016 might be a year away, but 2015 is the qualification year, so performances will be crucial. "This is the time to play well and keep an eye on the Olympic slot. If I keep doing that, I will make it to Rio,” the 19-year-old says. The confidence, of course, will help.