When PV Sindhu became Indian badminton’s golden girl

The shuttler had banished the demons of her past finals performances when she won the BWF World Championships last year.

On August 25, 2019 PV Sindhu provided a long-awaited moment for Indian badminton when she beat Nozomi Okuhara of Japan to win gold at the BWF World Championships.

It made her the first Indian to win the prestigious badminton world championships since its inception in 1977, and also helped her equal two-time Olympic gold medallist Zhang Ning’s record of five medals at the event.

In fact, even the colour of their medals are the same – two bronze, two silver and one gold.

“Each match was important for me and every point too,” PV Sindhu had said later, summing up the tournament.

The first of these matches was against Taiwan’s Yu-Po Pai

Without being too aggressive, the Indian shuttler began her campaign with a 21-14, 21-15 win. Focused on placing her shots, she did not have to make much use of her trademark smashes and displayed great judgment on the baseline.

The first display of her tremendous form came in the pre-quarter final against American shuttler Beiwen Zhang, an opponent she had fallen to in the finals of the India Open in 2018.

PV Sindhu brought out all the stops in the 34-minute clash, judiciously using her smashes to never concede her lead after 5-5 in the first game. 

The second one was even better as the Indian badminton star only allowed Beiwen Zhang a sniff at 1-1, and gave away just six points in the entire game to ease into the quarter-finals with a 21-14, 21-6 victory.

Bouncing back against Tai Tzu Ying

The Indian badminton player’s first real test came in the quarter-finals against then world no. 2 Tai Tzu Ying, an opponent against whom she did not enjoy a favourable head-to-head record, and had conceded the Asian Games gold to in 2018.

The Chinese Taipei veteran settled into her trademark calm style of play to comfortably win the first game 21-12 and looked set to mount her own challenge for a maiden BWF World Championships medal.

But PV Sindhu had other plans. From the second game onwards, the Rio 2016 Olympics silver medallist went on the offensive early, bringing out her powerful smashes at will and targeting Tai Tzu Ying’s body to not allow her to build any momentum.

The raw power plan paid off as PV Sindhu emerged a 12-21, 23-21, 21-19 victor on the other side of a 71-minute battle.

Finding her way to the finals in Basel

She employed a similar strategy in the semi-finals against China’s Chen Yufei.

Learning from her quarter-final clash, PV Sindhu sounded out her intentions early, going on the attack from the first point itself, and not allowing her opponent to settle.

The barrage of powerful strokes and smashes overwhelmed an unsuspecting Chen Yufei, who barely had time to breathe or strategize against the all-conquering Indian shuttler.

The Chinese did try to go on an all-out attack of her own but the early pressure showed, as she was unable to surprise PV Sindhu, who was defensive when needed but also had enough in the tank, mentally and physically, to pounce on mistakes, of which there were plenty.

Chen Yufei did compete better in the second game, but was no match for the Indian shuttler, who had mapped out her plans perfectly and went on to claim a clinical 21-7, 21-14 win when the Chinese shuttler netted her serve.

PV Sindhu had sailed into the finals in Basel in just over 40 minutes, her third-consecutive appearance.

The Nozomi Okuhara hurdle

This was the moment of truth for PV Sindhu.

The Indian badminton star had reached multiple finals in the past couple of years – Carolina Marin had resigned her to silver at Rio 2016 and the 2018 BWF World Championships, Tai Tzu Ying had done so at the 2018 Asian Games, Saina Nehwal beat her in the 2018 Commonwealth Games final and Nozomi Okuhara had beaten her to gold at the 2017 BWF World Championships.

It had given rise to the moniker ‘Silver Sindhu’ and the Hyderabad native admitted that she was desperate to shed that tag to prove a point, not only to the world but also to herself.

“I wanted to win that final at any cost. I did not know how I would do it, but I knew that I had to achieve it,” PV Sindhu stated later. And win it she did, in some style, it must be said.

She did not begin in the most auspicious manner, playing out a 22-shot rally only to concede the first point but that was the only blip in an otherwise perfect final.

PV Sindhu turned up the heat thereafter, as she had done to Tai Tzu Ying and Chen Yufei, mixing power and precision to make Nozomi Okuhara, who was already worn out after her three-game epic against Indonesian Ratchanok Intanon in the semis, chase the shuttle all over the court.

The Japanese tried to play longer in the second game but PV Sindhu was onto that strategy in a flash, using her long reach to get to the shuttles faster and powerfully place them in sections where her opponent found it difficult to recover them.

Fittingly, the Indian shuttler ended the contest with a down-the-line smash which Nozomi Okuhara could only push into the net, handing PV Sindhu a deserved 21-7, 21-7 victory in just 38 minutes, making her the women’s singles world champion.

A seminal moments of the sport in India, and another sizeable achievement in the career of Indian badminton superstar PV Sindhu.

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