PV Sindhu, the Athlete Who Refuses to Give Up

Sports

PV Sindhu, the Athlete Who Refuses to Give Up

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

Perseverance is an underrated quality. It’s fine to have big dreams, but the pursuit of them can be long and taxing, and not everyone has the stamina to make it all the way. There will be multiple failures, and only the tiniest fraction of people will actually succeed. That is what separates the great from the good, the path-breakers from the also-rans, and PV Sindhu from the rest. She is special. We saw hints when she started upsetting Chinese badminton superstars Li Xuerui, Wang Yihan, and He Bingjiao. But with a stunning gold at the BWF World Championships, the first-ever for an Indian, Sindhu has made an entire country — some still wallowing in the cricket team’s World Cup loss, others in the country’s floundering economy — sit up and dream.  

“This World Championship gold was very special… The way she has played the entire week has been fantastic. The way she closed the final with absolute class is great for the future as well,” were the first exuberant words out of coach Pullela Gopichand’s mouth, right after Sindhu resoundingly beat Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara in straight games 21-7, 21-7 in Basel on Sunday. 

Before looking into the future though, we will have to peek into the past. The last year in particular has been difficult for Sindhu. She repeatedly mentions how the high expectations and intense scrutiny only increase with every good performance she delivers on the international circuit. The season began with a loss in the quarterfinals of the Indonesia Masters to Carolina Marin. She played the Indian National Badminton Championships right after and lost in the final to Saina Nehwal. The disappointments continued to rake up — the biggest being the exit in the first round of the All England Championships. After that came a string of defeats at the hands of Japan’s best duo, Akane Yamaguchi and Okuhara. 

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“I’m very happy and I’ve waited for this victory and finally I’ve become a National Champion… World Champion, sorry, World Champion,” said a smiling Sindhu at the press conference after the win.

FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images

This phase would have held down any player, however experienced or skilled. But rather than slipping further into a slump, Sindhu continued to strive, resulting in a dramatic turnaround. That gritty, never-say-die temperament is now a part of her psyche. With age comes maturity, and yet somehow Sindhu defies that established logic. She is just 24 and it is one of her other biggest strengths. Listen to her speak and you’d realise that she has a fresh, young mind that takes victories and defeats in the same vein. “I’m very happy and I’ve waited for this victory and finally I’ve become a National Champion… World Champion, sorry, World Champion,” said a smiling Sindhu at the press conference after the win. 

And it is this innocent, disarming charm that transforms into that of a fierce competitor no one would want to cross on the court. The most remarkable quality of Sindhu has been how she has gradually added layers to her game making her one of the biggest threats on the circuit. Interestingly it all began back in 2012 when a lanky Sindhu stunned Okuhara in the Asian Youths Under-19 Championship. And she did stop there. Every year her scalps only grew – the then defending World Champion Wang Yihan in 2013, Wang Shixian in 2014, current world number 2 Tai Tzu-ying in 2015, the giant Carolina Marin in 2017, the world number 1 Akane Yamaguchi in 2018 and we know what she has achieved this year.

A lot of this gritty attitude of course comes from her coach and idol, Gopichand. In such a competitive and gruelling environment, lone rangers are a rarity, and Sindhu is lucky to have the support of a family that understands the rigours of the sport and also a mentor whom she grew up idolising. Sindhu always rushes court-side to hug her mentor first before she runs up to her opponent. In turn, Gopichand believes that it isn’t just her grit and talent that make her such a success story, but her ability to listen, grasp and execute plans, along with with her incredibly warm and friendly nature that makes her a champion in every right. And he absolutely revels in Sindhu’s accomplishments. The man sitting without a smile through the entire final broke into a large grin as soon as Sindhu won. 

The most remarkable quality of Sindhu has been how she has gradually added layers to her game making her one of the biggest threats on the circuit.

“It is not that as a country we have a tradition of winning golds forever. Each medal we have won we have achieved more than what has come in the previous year. The progress is what I am glad about,” Gopichand tells me after Sindhu’s triumph. The key word in there is “we”. They say it takes a village to raise a child, and it also holds true for raising a champion and a world-beater. 

With her historic victory, PV Sindhu has reached a realm not many individual Indian sportswomen have. Or should we say sportspersons? Weigh it alongside frontrunners in other Olympic disciplines and Sindhu is miles ahead when it comes to attaining glory in an individual sport. India cast a glimmer of hope years ago when raw heroes emerged in boxing and wrestling at the 2008 Olympics. Mary Kom has definitely been an inspiration to many. Sania Mirza tried to push the boundaries but she ultimately had to turn to doubles to create another path for herself. India always took great pride in shooting and today there is just a blip on that calendar post the one-shot gold glory year. Archery, track & field, we could go on and you know you’d be grasping at straws. Sure there’s a young 17-year-old archer Komalika Bari and sprinter Hima Das creating some flutter, but they still have a long way to go. And should we even try and compare what Sindhu has achieved with not just this gold but the continuous rain of medals each time she refused to give up to team sports like cricket or hockey – wherein India has attained great heights? A rhetorical one that. 

Sindhu has come a long way and she holds the tantalising promise of going even further. Yes Olympics beckons and the biggest prize would truly make her a legend of Indian sporting history in every way. And that’s what’s most exciting about her. She has got the entire country daring to not just dream, but dream bigger than ever.

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