By Hardik Rajgor Aug. 28, 2018
PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal have scripted history at the 2018 Asian Games. Their individual journeys and accolades are no doubt inspiring. But what they mean for India and for the sport goes far, far beyond those solo pursuits.
“Jeetega bhai jeetega, India jeetega” chants echoed inside Jakarta’s Istora Gelora Bung Karno arena, as PV Sindhu took on world number one Tai Tzu-ying of the Chinese Taipei at the Asian Games badminton final. A few years ago, hearing a robust Hindi chant in an international arena might have been unthinkable. But thanks to the meteoric rise of the sport in the last few years, fans have flocked in large numbers to back our shuttlers across the world.
And PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal, both of whom have won historic medals at the 2018 Asian Games, have been the sport’s shining ambassadors. Sindhu settled for a silver, while Nehwal for a bronze. But being in the semis of women’s badminton alone had ensured their entry into history books. Their individual journeys and accolades are no doubt inspiring – but what they mean for India and for the sport goes far, far beyond those solo pursuits.
Minutes before the women’s singles final got underway, Tai Tzu-ying watched her male counterpart Chou Tienchen narrowly losing the gold to local boy Jonatan “Jojo” Christie of Indonesia in the men’s singles final. Tai seemed to be in no mood to let that repeat, putting in a dominating performance and taking the game away in straight sets. With the full force of her superior technical ability and strong net game led by deceptive drop shots, she didn’t let Sindhu breathe. One wouldn’t expect anything less from a world number one.
PV Sindhu motored on with steely determination and attacking gameplay, winning points in patches but also being forced into unforced errors by the Taipei shuttler. Toward the end of the first game, Sindhu flung her racket in the air with frustration after missing a net shot she would’ve otherwise aced in her sleep. It summed up her final: It wasn’t to be PV Sindhu’s day.
But even on an off day, PV Sindhu ended up creating history after defying physics on court over the years. She became the first Indian shuttler to win a badminton silver medal at the Asian Games, an astounding achievement. For some on social media, however, it was a let-down, for we suffer from “Sharma ji ka ladka syndrome,” expecting our champions to win gold medals everywhere, all the time, no matter what the conditions. It is something fans just expect from PV Sindhu now: We innately know she is among the absolute best in the world.
At 23, she has already left her mark at the World Championships, Commonwealth Games, Asian Games, Summer Olympics, and the BWF, Super Series events.
When you get beaten by a prime Carolina Marin or Tai Tzu-ying, there is only so much you can do, for these are the top shelf in women’s badminton, people who are capable of annihilating their opponents. We can be fairly certain that Sindhu will also return the favour pretty soon when they inevitably match up again at future tournaments.
However, the fact that Sindhu now has the pressure of a billion expectations tells us a lot about how far she has come in her career – where a silver medal isn’t enough for us anymore. That’s an honour that used to be reserved for Sachin Tendulkar, the leading man in a sport that Indians are obsessed with. We now save some of that cheering, some of that glory for Sindhu.
The fact that some badminton record tumbles every second week seems normal. A Super Series title or a World Championship medal are quickly celebrated and forgotten. However, it is important to pause and reflect, for none of these are ordinary feats. In an extremely competitive individual sport dominated by a handful of countries for a long time, Indian shuttlers have hit the ground running. Sindhu has managed to do something very few in the game have been able to pull off, breach the Chinese wall consistently. Whether it is Nozomi Okuhara, Wang Yihan, or Carolina Marin, Sindhu has adapted her game and got the better of all of them after initial setbacks. It is this never-give-up fighter spirit on court that has come to define her game.
And she is only just getting started.
At 23, she has already left her mark at the World Championships, Commonwealth Games, Asian Games, Summer Olympics, and the BWF, Super Series events. With the grit, determination, and long hours of training that shaped her childhood years, it is inevitable that she will dominate the circuit and win more medals and accolades – as well as land on lists like Forbes’ ranking of the highest earning female athletes in the world.
But most of all, her biggest achievement that cannot be quantified in either medals or money, is what Sindhu has accomplished for the sport in India. Millions of young girls around the country might be inspired to pick up a racket and dream of becoming a world champion.
For that alone, her silver is worth more than its weight in gold.