PV Sindhu: A continuous sail in uncharted waters

PV Sindhu won the silver medal in the women's singles event, losing to Chinese Taiper's Tai Tzu Ying in the final
PV Sindhu won the silver medal in the women's singles event, losing to Chinese Taipei's Tai Tzu Ying in the final

PV Sindhu has lost in another big final. Inevitably the narrative will surround the fact that the Indian ace has lost yet another final. Sindhu has been the eternal bridesmaid of Indian sport for a few years now, and it’s probably only fair that even she wonders what that final piece in her jigsaw is.

Maybe one day, when she’s training at the Gopichand Academy in Hyderabad, Sindhu will find herself alone in a corner, look around her and think about these various final defeats. She has lost Singles finals at the Olympics, the World Championships, the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games now. Sindhu has got every reason to wonder: How is she not a champion at a flagship event yet?

The truth is, though, that along with her great rival Carolina Marin, Sindhu has been the most consistent player in the women’s singles circuit over the past couple of years. That, in itself, should be celebrated as a humongous achievement.

But why is Sindhu still being chastised for her inability to close out matches on the big occasion? Is it a mental block that’s stopping her from making that last step?

That is the lazy narrative, when it comes to Sindhu’s performance in finals. In her big finals over the past few years, Sindhu has faced arguably the most in-form players at that particular tournament.

When a player loses a final, other lazy narratives include dragging the player’s age and the shortcomings it brings into the equation, but in sport, any sport, there is one uncontrollable: your opposition’s form.

Be it in the World Championship final against Carolina Marin last month or the Asian Games final against Tai Tzu Ying today, Sindhu came up against a monster on the other side of the court.

With Tai and what she has shown in this year, every single player in the field would be wondering how they can beat her.

With a player that has a power game, you can work on your ability to retrieve every shuttle. With a player that has a strong retrieval, you can work on your ability to remain aggressive and not give the opponent enough time to retrieve the shuttle.

But what can you do with a player who is just a machine? Tai Tzu Ying is a machine. But unlike other machines, this one does not have a set pattern of functioning. The range of shots and the ability to disguise her shots have set her apart from the rest of the field, and it was going to take a herculean effort from anybody to get near her.

All you could really do was pray. Pray that she had an off-day. Maybe ask He Bingjiao how much and to whom she prayed before she beat the woman from Chinese Taipei in the World Championship. Maybe that was really the best one could hope for against Tai Tzu Ying in full flight.

Things were no different at the World Championship final last month either. Carolina Marin – that screechy voice in perfect shape and the left-handed elegance of her powerful strokeplay in full swing – humbled Sindhu in the final.

So, do we celebrate Sindhu for making so many finals? Or do we question her for losing those finals? Perhaps the most important fact that one needs to keep in mind is that over the last two years, the constant in big finals has been one lady – Sindhu. Because of the number of finals that she has not been able to get over the line in, it is very easy to forget how big an achievement it is to maintain the level of consistency that gets you to finals of big tournaments time after time.

It is also extremely easy to forget that Sindhu is still only 23. Twenty-three. The fact that she has a nation expecting nothing less than the yellow metal from her on the biggest of stages is testament to just how good she is. It is also testament to just how good Sindhu could still become.

For a teenager who burst into the limelight as the next big hope in Indian badminton after Saina Nehwal, Sindhu has carried the baton of being the nation’s no.1 admirably since being passed it by Saina. She still does not have as many Gold Medals in big events as Saina does, but she has still got time on her side.

PV Sindhu is still a ridiculously good badminton player. Nothing that anybody says is going to take that away from her. Her physique is a wonderful ally, with her wingspan helping her retrieve shuttles that might be a little tougher for others on the tour. She’s got a wonderful smash that leaves the swiftest players like Akane Yamaguchi and Nozomi Okuhara on their haunches. She’s got the ability to beat anybody on her day.

Maybe one day, she will be Tai Tzu Ying, who knows? Nobody who saw Sindhu beating Tai at Rio in the 2016 Olympics would have ever believed that the woman from Chinese Taipei would go on to become anywhere near as brilliant as she is today.

For PV Sindhu, these silver medals will not be the end of the world. She might sometimes wonder what she has to do to have some blingy yellow metal hanging around her neck, but like a certain other favourite sporting son of this country repeatedly says, “Trust the process and the results will eventually come”.

Sindhu has consistently been the first Indian to achieve the things she has on a badminton court - making Olympic, World Championship and Asian Games finals before any other individual in this country had.

One day, maybe soon, PV Sindhu’s consistency will be rewarded. One day, for Sindhu, her long, sometimes lonely, ride through uncharted waters will land her on a treasure trove.

Until then, it is India’s duty to stand by her, just for all the joy and hope that she has given this country with that racquet in hand.

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Edited by Arvind Sriram
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