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PV Sindhu: A fledgling warrior willing to shoulder the burden of hope

P V Sindhu
P V Sindhu

She is just a teenager, but only in form. India’s ace badminton starlet P V Sindhu is growing into a warrior woman long before she can turn into a lady.

The past week may have lasted only seven days for many of us, but for the 18-year-old from Hyderabad it was one that might have felt fairly longer. As she battled both opponent and self-doubt, Sindhu opened a window to her soul for us to experience the athlete’s coming of age.

Her monumental efforts in the quarters and semifinals of the Uber Cup were ample testimony of her resolve and resilience. Sindhu’s weighty role in working with Saina Nehwal to achieve India’s first ever bronze medal in the iconic event points to a meaningful future for the young athlete.

There is hardly an endeavor as effective at holding a mirror to the character of a human being as does sport. And watching Sindhu at work in the Uber Cup was an education into her evolution as an athlete willing to stretch her last sinew in search of victory.

The team’s fortune rested on the shoulders of Saina Nehwal and Sindhu, a fact that was not lost on the young girl through every dramatic moment of her existence in the tournament. The early rounds against Canada and Hong Kong weren’t exactly tough tasks, but Thailand was an important test.

India needed to punch above its weight in order to avoid walking into the path of the Chinese. Nailing the first game 21-19 against Porntip Buranaprasertsuk was key to Sindhu snatching an important second point to help the team finish the league stages at the top of its group.

It was an edgy game that Sindhu won narrowly, but it was only to be the first act for an intensely engaging script that the youngster had in store for us. In the past, Sindhu had difficulty sustaining her best game in the face of a stubborn opponent – we saw some of that in the Indian Badminton League last year and at the World Championships earlier this season.

With Saina bouncing back in style from a prolonged phase of indifferent results, the onus was on Sindhu to keep her end of the bargain to prevent the team from faltering. The team needed to keep a clean sheet from the first two singles to stand any chance of victory and Sindhu was carrying the burden of that hope.

But all the good work was about to fall off the rails, when Sindhu sank into a sudden abyss of errors, just after taking the first game off a probing opponent in the quarters. The one sided second game was an ugly patch against Bellaetrix Manuputty, a player rated well below the Indian. The thirteen places that separated them in the rankings meant little soon as the Indian surrendered the second game.

Perhaps the passage of play that followed was as much a journey of discovery for Sindhu as it was shaping to be for us. The willingness to seek out from the reservoir of talent, to craft the means for survival in the midst of battle is stuff that sets apart champions from the common folk.

And as the players waded head long into a third game, Sindhu took us along into the maze that makes up the inside of her mind and soul. In her reluctance to give up on victory into the depths of that third game, Sindhu introduced us to a champion who could likely redefine glory for Indian badminton.

We all love a great warrior, but one swallow does not make a summer. And so it was only fitting that she came out in her fatigues again the next day for another brutally exhausting battle. In repetition we find affirmation, and Sindhu offered us an avowal and then some.

India was staring at a far tougher opponent in the form of Japan in the semifinals. Yet again Saina gave the team a smooth start, defeating Minatsu Mitani in straight games. With Japan far stronger in the third singles (Eriko Hirose vs. PC Thulasi) and avowedly superior in the doubles, our only hope lay in ensuring victory in the first two singles matches.

Sindhu played a purposeful first game, but Sayaka Takahashi edged ahead with a narrow 21-19 advantage. The writing was on the wall for India, but Sindhu was far from keen to read it. She might still have been bleeding from the effort in the quarterfinals, but it seemed only to spur her on to greater effort.

The second game was yet another titanic duel, this time Sindhu got the better of her opponent 21-18, to get the match to an even keel. She had played the longest match of her nascent career against Manuputty (an hour and 24 minutes), yet here she was straining the last ounce of energies from her over worked muscles.

It was to be an attritional end game, a test of patience and perseverance, as much as it was a statement of skill. After a bruising battle, Sindhu seemed down and out as she trailed 17-19. But as the game reached a precipice, it only strengthened the resolve of India’s national champion.

Match points came and went, both players demonstrating remarkable staying power to keep the game alive. The intensity was palpable with the crowd inside the lit up Siri Fort clutching at their heart strings even as they were falling off the edge of their seats.

In the end though it was Sindhu’s remarkable resilience that saw her through 26-24 in a game that looked like it may never end. It was a staggering effort from an 18 year old who is still some way from a fully developed game.

The lanky player had often depended on her ability to destroy her opponents with aggression, but over the course of this Uber Cup we have learnt of her willingness to rally with her opponents for as long as it took to extract victory.

Through those nearly three hour lung busting tussles against her dogged opponents, we have witnessed the slow, painstaking transformation of this promising girl. She is eager to don the skin of a woman and seems willing to shoulder the hopes of Indian badminton for many seasons to come.

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