For once, shuttler champion PV Sindhu wasn’t tired of answering any questions. For she had given a thundering response to the one that had been niggling her mind after a string of six silvers in major finals this year. Why couldn’t she convert her shots to a championship win? At the World Tour Finals this Sunday, Sindhu decided she had had enough of silver and boldly changed the colour of her medal, remaining unbeaten through the week and taming her contemporaries, some of whom had been her nemesis before. Predictably, she slumped in relief after beating Nozomi Okuhara 21-19, 21-17. The win takes her to world number 3 and is another milestone along the blazing path set by her predecessor Saina Nehwal in a sport that has for long been considered the preserve of the East and Southeast Asian talent.
Indians were never considered too good enough to get to worldmark standards. In her initial games and wins, even Saina Nehwal had admitted that while she worked on her physical strengths and primed her core skill set, it was in the mind that she had to win first and overcome the myth that her other Asian compatriots had the greater endurance. Once she built her patience, focus and self-confidence levels to do everything right, she could get out of her own mental trap. Sindhu did that, too, at the Guangzhou championship. What stood out was that she was as taut about her game as the opponent’s and was able to capitalise on the little room that Okuhara gave, though they were very slim.
Sunday’s game saw a new Sindhu, one who matched her natural athletic ability, height and smashes with a new-found aggression and power. She kept the opponent guessing about her moves, befuddling her with her strokes. She even displayed a rare hunger and obsession, dismissing post-match highs and emphasising that she would like to change the colour of her Olympics medal. Most importantly, she cast aside her self-doubts and stuck to the plan of getting her point on merit than risk knee-jerk moves. That consistency of tempo should stop critics from looking back at her matches so far to assess where she can go now.
Due credit must be given to coach Pullela Gopichand for working on her steadfastly although every final victory that she missed compounded her performance pressure. But the mentor knew that a historic title would change that perception and kept the focus on working her latent ability to a winnable one. And Sunday’s mega title put paid to a tidal wave of doubt. With this outing, Sindhu even took home her biggest single-week pay cheque totalling Rs 86.30 lakh and ramped up her earnings of the year to Rs 4.22 crore in 2018. And she is just 23 with a train of endorsements. Badminton may not have the reach of tennis across the globe but Sindhu sure has pitched herself close to the aura of illustrious women players and athletes of her time. A crowd favourite across age groups given her maturity and reserve, Sindhu has the demonstrative potential too, given the frequency of title clashes lined up for her. And if she can deliver as she did on Sunday, then she can surely emerge to be India’s millennial sports icon.