Stop the clock, cut off the telephone, hold your breath, and bring India to a standstill. For the first time in Olympic history, an Indian woman is on the verge of beating the world for an Olympic gold.
On Thursday night, PV Sindhu unleashed a barrage of jump smashes, cross-court drops and baseline tosses to demolish her Japanese opponent, Nozomi Okuhara, in the semi-final of the women's badminton event at the Rio Olympics. Her rare achievement made sure that on Friday evening, millions of Indians would be glued to their TV sets, hoping to see that rare moment when the Tricolour is unfurled and the national anthem is played at the Olympics.
India last woke up to the sound of Jana Mana Gana eight years ago, at the Beijing Olympics, when Abhinav Bindra became the first Indian to win an individual gold. If Sindhu beats her Spanish rival Carolina Marin, she would become the first Indian woman to win gold at the Olympics.
On Thursday night, playing against Okuhara, she raced off the starting blocks, establishing an early 7-4 lead in the first game. "Jump and smash," her coach and mentor P Gopichand kept instructing her from the corner. And this is exactly what Sindhu kept doing relentlessly, targeting Okuhara's body and far forehand corner till she threw in the towel.
At 179 cm, Sindhu is taller than most of her opponents. Her ability to leap high in the air and slap the bird, almost like a volleyball player, with her forehand from the middle court and sometimes from the baseline makes her a formidable opponent. On her day, when Sindhu jump-smashes a shuttle, it comes down with a force and from a height that is rare in women's badminton.
Okuhara faced a volley of jump-smashes and cross-court tosses on Thursday, parrying them with patience till her defences gave up midway through the second set. With the scores almost levelled around the halfway mark, Okuhara's game just dismantled as Sindhu kept strafing her opponent's court using the shuttle like a weapon. Within minutes, a match that appeared at the precipice, tilted Sindhu's way. The final scorecard 21-19, 21-10 tells the story of Okuhara's capitulation.
Sindhu was marked for greatness, right from when she was about to pass out of primary school. As a teenager, every time she won a junior badminton tournament, headline writers hailed her as a 'Smashing Sensation', destined for greatness. The script that started at an early age is now nearing a golden finale. A decade of hard work, a gruelling schedule that made her get up early, travel nearly 60 km and start training before dawn, is about to pay off.
Before the Olympics began, Sindhu cut herself off from the world, setting aside all distractions, including her mobile phone. For two months, before taking the flight to Rio, she disappeared into the trenches, getting ready to battle history and an Olympics draw that did not favour her.
Since she was ranked outside the top 10, not many gave Sindhu a chance. But, she has defied rankings, swept aside Olympic favourites like China's Wang Yihan and already assured the first ever silver medal for an Indian woman at the Olympics.
Her next opponent, Marin, is the world number one. For almost a year, Marin has dominated women's badminton and won every major international tournament. But, Sindhu has a 2-3 record against her, suggesting that Marin may not be so difficult to beat.
On Friday, as Indians watch with bated breath and silent prayers, everyone would be hoping for that familiar sight: Sindhu soaring high in the air, smashing the shuttle with her forehand, pumping her fist, leaping in the air and letting out a victorious roar.
Freeze the frame, stop the clock, and ask the wind to stop blowing. Pusarla Venkata Sindhu is on the verge of rewriting Indian Olympic history.
First Published On : Aug 19, 2016 10:33 IST