All of 16, PV Sindhu bagged her maiden senior international crown — the Maldives International Challenge — on Saturday. Since the tournament is far from being a flagship event, the coverage has been pretty scarce. But it might as well signal the arrival of India’s new badminton star.
The tournament is equivalent to the Futures series in tennis and is considered to be just a feeder circuit for the Grand Prix and other higher-level tournaments that the country’s current shuttle queen, Saina Nehwal, has been consistently winning. But for all those following Indian badminton with keen interest, Sindhu’s victory could be the final push that the youngster needed.
The Hyderabadi had come close to landing her maiden senior crown a couple of times last year, but had been unable to handle the pressure at the business end of those tournaments and the general consensus was that all she needed was a big win to break the shackles of self-doubt. This tournament wasn’t exactly big, but even if it’s only for the mental peace that it gives Sindhu, it’s huge.
Her senior and training partner at the Gopichand Badminton Academy, world number 4 Saina, had gone through a similar phase before an upset win over then national champion Aparna Popat in India Satellite in New Delhi in 2005 gave her the confidence that she could be a world beater.
Sindhu was just finding her feet on the badminton circuit that year and has followed in Saina’s footsteps in dominating the age group tournaments in India even before she was 15. She, in fact, went a step further by finishing fifth in the World Junior championship in Mexico in March 2010 and then reached the quarterfinals of the Asian Badminton Championship in New Delhi. She also qualified for the inaugural Youth Olympics in Singapore last year, but was left out since she was under-age.
But even before she came into the limelight, her mentor and coach Pullela Gopichand would tell anyone and everyone who bothered to listen to look out for the girl. He first tried hard to convince the Mittal Champions Trust and then the Olympic Gold Quest to support the lanky shuttler, who was 13 then, but it was only after the successful 2010 that the latter signed her on.
At 16, Sindhu is already 5’ 10’’, her height a gift she has got from her parents – former volleyball players Ramana and Vijaya, both of whom are over six feet. That height provides her a distinct advantage while playing those deadly half smashes, and there is no doubting that the youngster has a better overall game than Saina.
While the world number 4 relies more on grinding down her opponent with long rallies and then killing them off with her hard smashes, Sindhu is more skillful and deceptive in building a point. Her height also provides her the kind of reach Saina struggles with at times.
On the physical front, Sindhu needs to work on her stamina and strength in her legs to avoid injuries. But on the psychological front, the youngster needed a victory boost.
With the pressure of expectation from fellow players and her parents building up, Sindhu looked baulked down during the senior nationals in Rohtak, where she entered as a favourite to become the first women shuttler to win the senior and junior national titles in the same year.
She had then failed to convert two match points and a 17-11 lead in the decider in the quarterfinal against Arundhati Pantawane and people had started doubting her temperament.
But the triumph in Male, where she defeated world number 43 Marin Carolina of Spain and world number 52 Agnese Allegrini of Italy enroute to the final, should give her the confidence to start taking giant strides towards stardom.