By Tanya Kini
UPDATE, 9 PM: Its a silver medal for PV Sindhu! In a terribly hard fought match against Spain’s Carolina Marin, Sindhu won the first game 21-19, but Marin came back with 21-12 in the second game and 21-15 in the third. What an exciting match, and a historic medal for Sindhu.
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Badminton player PV Sindhu is 21 years old, at her first Olympics, and about to play in the finals tonight! She’s the first Indian to ever reach the finals of a badminton event at the Olympics (Saina Nehwal won a bronze medal at the London Olympics in 2012). Whatever tonight’s result is, Sindhu is guaranteed at least a silver medal, and she’ll also be the first-ever female medallist from India to win an Olympic medal that isn’t a bronze. But as we’ve seen, Sindhu has a habit of rising to challenges and making history in her short career.
Although both Sindhu’s parents were volleyball players (her father PV Ramana is an Arjuna Awardee), she was bitten by the badminton bug when very young. Inspired by Gopichand’s success, she eventually joined his academy at the age of 8 and never looked back, travelling 56 km to train at the academy, and always reporting on time.
Fast forward nine years later, to 2013, when Sindhu won her maiden Grand Prix Gold title in Malaysia (and then went on to win it in 2014 and 2015), and then the Arjuna Award in 2013. She also became the first Indian woman to win a World Championship medal in the singles’ category, ahead of India’s top female badminton player Saina Nehwal. In 2014, she became the first Indian to win back-to-back World Championship medals.
This Olympics was supposed to be a testing ground for Sindhu, with Nehwal looking to better her London bronze. But the lanky Hyderabadi surprised everyone when she obliterated World No 2 Wang Yihan, silver medallist at London Games 2012, raising the hopes of a badminton-loving nation after Saina crashed out in the group stages. Her semi-final opponent was the defending All England champion and World No 5 Nozomi Okuhara, but that wasn’t daunting for Sindhu, who smashed the Japanese player, winning 21-19, 21-10, to seal another Olympic medal for India.
There were fist pumps after every point won, with Gopichand in the corner, asking her to keep up the momentum, and roars that reverberated through the packed stadium as she sealed a date with World No 1 Carolina Marin (who is boringly referred to as ‘The Girl Nadal’ — wrong gender, wrong sport even, but let’s make the comparison anyway, right?) in the finals.
A few thousand miles away from Rio, the Gopichand Badminton Academy in Gachibowli had become a screening room, set up by Gopichand’s son. Sindhu’s parents were watching her play, along friends, well-wishers and the juniors training there,who look up to Sindhu much like she had looked up to Gopichand herself for inspiration.
Her real test comes tonight when she faces Marin, against whom she has a 3-4 win-loss record. Don’t miss the final match, playing tonight at 6:55pm! Whatever the outcome, Sindhu stands tall for India tonight.