At the 2016 Rio Olympics, the focus was fully on Saina Nehwal. The former World No. 1 was expected to emulate her bronze medal-winning feat of the 2012 London Games and bring home another medal.
PV Sindhu was firmly perched out of the spotlight. All along, she was playing second fiddle to the Vimal Kumar ward. It was only after Nehwal’s unfortunate knee injury-induced defeat that the attention turned to the lanky 21-year-old.
There is perhaps valid reason for this. Even though her resume boasts of double World Championships bronze medals, Sindhu’s consistency has time and again been questioned.
Even this year, she began the season with a bang by capturing the Malaysia Masters title. But after that, the firepower from Sindhu somewhat mellowed and she did not reach another final until her historic campaign at the Rio Games.
Maybe she is still too young and is taking time to learn to sustain her high level for every tournament. Maybe her attacking game is also responsible for her leaking more errors than she would have liked which is another cause for frequent defeats.
But now it is an even steeper challenge for Sindhu ahead of her. She is no more Saina’s understudy, she is very much now playing the lead role. With the performance she put up in Brazil, she has very much asserted herself. It goes without saying that badminton fans in India and all over the world will be waiting anxiously to see her produce that kind of magic again.
For the Olympics, she quietly went about her way, immersing in her preparations with her coach par excellence Pullela Gopichand. For eight months, they trained hard and left no stone unturned. From her physical fitness to her mental fortitude, every facet of Sindhu’s game was taken care of.
By the time she arrived at the Olympics, she was bubbling with zeal and confidence. The group matches helped her to settle into the high-energy ambiance of the mega quadrennial Games. Which is why, by the time Nehwal departed, Sindhu was already in a zone of her own.
Now it is an alien situation for the youngster. With a higher stature comes the pressure of expectations. Some players do thrive in it while some take their own sweet time to get accustomed to it.
It remains to be seen how Sindhu responds to it now. Her comeback being at the Denmark Open Superseries Premier, it doesn’t make things any easier for her.
This is the very tournament where she reached the final last year – her only Superseries final so far – and has thus 9, 350 points to defend now. It was a giant-killing run from her at Odense in 2015 where she upset three top-10 players en route to the final.
Now the roles have reversed. After becoming the first Indian woman to clinch an Olympic silver medal, Sindhu, who is at her career-best ranking of No. 8, is obviously the hunted.
The Gopichand protégé is well aware of the burgeoning expectations and hopes to deliver on the court.
“Olympics has given me a lot of confidence and with the same confidence I hope I would go further,” Sindhu said in a recent interview. “Responsibilities will always be high from now on. It’s just that I shouldn’t take much of pressure and play my game. I just want to go to the court and give my 100 percent,” she added.
Road to the final for Sindhu at the Denmark Open
And the sixth seed indeed needs to give her all right from the start. Her first round opponent is quite a dangerous one and even has a 2-1 record in their year-to-date meetings. The 11th ranked He Bingjao has proved to be a handful for the Indian this year and has also won their last meeting at the Singapore Open in April.
If Sindhu manages to overcome that first hurdle, she has a couple of seemingly winnable rounds. Her road again gets considerably harder in the semi-finals as she is likely to be up against the sixth-ranked Tai Tzu Ying. The Chinese Taipei shuttler leads their head-to-head meetings 4-3 but the Indian did win their most recent encounter in the pre-quarter-finals of the Rio Olympics.
Sindhu needs to play with the same courage and attitude if she wants to repeat that result before setting up a possible Olympic final rematch with the World No. 1 Carolina Marin in the summit clash at Denmark.
- Round 1: World No. 11 He Bingjao of China
- Round 2: World No. 12 Sayaka Sato of Japan
- Quarter-finals: World No. 14 Busanan Ongbamrungphan of Thailand
- Semi-finals: World No. 6 Tai Tzu Ying of Chinese Taipei or World No. 7 Ji Hyun Sung of Korea
- Final: World No. 1 Carolina Marin of Spain