Every time the name of PV Sindhu has been mentioned in the last one year, the discussion invariably starts or ends with the question – Can she be the next Saina Nehwal of Indian badminton?
The question has been posed to Sindhu herself numerous times and every time the affable teenager had to respond to the question, she just smiled and speaks about how much Saina has achieved in her career. What she never dwells on is an attempt to compare her to the former junior world champion as she knows that she is capable carving a niche for herself, rather than remaining in the shadow of India’s current shuttle queen.
The 17-year-old took a giant step in that direction when she became the first Indian shuttler to win the Badminton Asia Youth U-19 championship in Korea on Saturday. The Asian title is considered more difficult to win since the level of competition is at times higher than the world championship itself since there are no easy matches since all the major forces in world badminton are from Asian continent.
It is obvious for any layman to start comparing Sindhu to Saina. After all, both are the products of the Gopichand Academy and started making a mark on the international circuit by the time they turned 16.
But the similarities end there. Saina and Sindhu are two completely different individuals who even approach the game and their career in contrasting styles. While Saina’s approach is all about single-mindedness and grit, Sindhu is more relaxed and is very laidback outside the playing arena.
In the words of their academy mates, watching Saina play is a tense affair since she is fighting for every point and is always pumped up, while Sindhu can smile through tense situation and can come up with unorthodox strokes to break the shackles.
Back at the academy, Sindhu is part of every training session beginning from 4.30 in the morning. The naturally athletic body of the 5 feet 11 inch strapping teenager not only allows her to work harder it also helps her recover faster.
That is precisely why the daughter of two former volleyball internationals could afford to play three weeks of top flight badminton – one Grand Prix Gold and two Super Series – before the U-19 Asian championship and had enough fuel in her belly to win the tournament despite playing for four weeks on the trot.
But on the other hand, Saina tends to gain weight faster and hence needs to pick and choose her tournaments properly.
However, the biggest reason to discourage any talks of Sindhu being the next Saina is because Saina is only 22 and in a year or two both the girls would be competitors on the international circuit and would look to outsmart and outplay each other.
Sindhu, the only women’s singles player to hold the junior and senior national crown together, has already started catching up with Saina and had she been playing on the senior international circuit could have made the Olympic cut.
She needed to break into the top-16 to qualify for the London Games. Sindhu managed to jump from 80 to top-30 in the last six months but ran out of time.
But by the end of this year, Sindhu will be sharing equal load of India’s challenge in the team championships along with Saina and also on the international circuit where the Commonwealth Games gold medallist said she felt the pressure of shouldering the weight of expectations all alone.
Sindhu has shown enough potential to believe that she can reduce the load on Saina. It is in the interest of Indian badminton that she carves a place for herself rather than emulate her more illustrious compatriot.