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PV Sindhu holds court

V Krishnaswamy | Updated on March 20, 2020 Published on March 19, 2020

Poised for more: PV Sindhu managed early on to convince her father — an Asian Games volleyball bronze medallist — that she was champion material   -  SANDEEP SAXENA

Be it victory or defeat, the badminton star doesn’t shy away from questions and criticism

I must say I was a bit sceptical when I first heard about a shuttler who was said to be wielding magic on the badminton court. Her name, my friend and sports journalist N Jagannath Das from Hyderabad said, was PV Sindhu. She was still a junior but a “star in the making”, I was told.

This was sometime in 2010, when Saina Nehwal was the reigning champ. Was Sindhu anywhere close to Nehwal, who had won the World Junior Championship in 2008 and the singles gold at the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi two years later? Unlikely, I thought.

Shuttling to the Top – the story of PV Sindhu; V Krishnaswamy; HarperCollins; Non-fiction; ₹399

 

But Hyderabad journalists need to be taken seriously when it comes to badminton — after all, they had seen both Pullela Gopichand and Saina Nehwal come up. And they had watched ace coaches such as Arif Mohammed from close quarters.

Then, in 2011, Sindhu won the national title. She was just 16. I kept track of her, though I am not sure I saw a world champion or an Olympic finalist in her at that time.

Yet, the stories that I heard about her made me sit up. There were reports about the sacrifices that Sindhu and her parents, PV Ramana and Vijaya, were willing to make; and how she travelled more than 50km every day to the stadium where she was training. I heard about all the hard work and how her father — an Asian Games volleyball bronze medallist — was convinced that he had a champion in his family.

So, years later, when I was asked if I would be interested in writing a book on Sindhu, I agreed. There was, after all, a lot that was still not known about Pusarla Venkata Sindhu, the world’s number 2 player in 2017. It’s now that we know the extent of her success. In 2019, the 24-year-old player ranked 13th in the Forbes list of the world’s highest paid female athletes (the only Indian to figure on the list headed by tennis star Serena Williams) and had earnings of $5.5 million.

The book — Shuttling to the Top – the story of PV Sindhu — is now out. I have met her many times at many games. She has always been courteous and giggly. She has no airs and is refreshingly forthcoming.

I watched her play in Incheon and Jakarta for the Asian Games; in Glasgow and the Gold Coast for the Commonwealth Games; and in Rio for the Olympic Games.

At the Olympics, I was the media manager of the Indian contingent. I had to protect the player from an aggressive media and, at the same time, allow the press and cameras to share the glory Sindhu had brought India with her silver medal.

It also gave me a chance to watch her closely — at the Village; in the dining hall; with her mentor Gopichand; and how she soaked in everything that the Brazilian city had to offer, and yet did not allow her concentration on her game to waver.

Over the years I also noticed how open she was with the media. No matter who the journalist was, she would always give a quote, a comment or view. And she would do that regardless of the result — win or loss.

I remember the epic final against Nozomi Okuhara at the 2017 World Championship in Glasgow, those 60-70 stroke rallies which gave me a crick in the neck and did my blood pressure no good. She lost the match, which looked like a 15-round slugfest with dancing shoes, by the slenderest of margins.

I could not imagine that she would come out to meet the media after what must have been the cruellest defeat in her career. But she did. She shook her head, and her answer when asked what she could have done to win was like a question in itself: “What more could I do?”

One of them had to lose, and it turned out to be Sindhu. I, a grizzled, battle-weary sports journalist who’s seen more defeat than wins for Indians, had to hold back my tears.

I have been lucky — or unlucky, perhaps — to have seen her reach every major final — the Olympics, the World Championship, Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games — and watch her lose them all.

At one point I convinced myself that she would not win if I watched the match. So, I stayed away when she played the BWF Tour final in China and the World Championship in Basel, Switzerland, last year. She won both times, defeating Okuhara in straight games in the women’s singles final to win the gold in Basel. I watched her win on the television.

My wish is to see her scale the peak at All England (the Wimbledon of badminton) and win the gold at the Tokyo Olympic Games slated to be held later this year. And, if I can, I shall watch the matches on the TV, even if I am at the same venue.

V Krishnaswamy, a freelance writer and consultant, is the author of Shuttling to the Top – the story of PV Sindhu

Published on March 19, 2020
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