Sindhu ready to step up as India goes badminton crazy
India’s flag bearer Pusarla Venkata Sindhu knows what pressure is. Badminton may not be quite as popular as cricket in India but plenty of the 1.3 billion population adore the sport and follow every shot its favourite female shuttler hits.
In recent years Sindhu has become the first Indian badminton player to win three world championship medals and the youngest ever Indian to win an Olympic medal. It is quite a roll call and one that naturally makes her the major Commonwealth Games medal hope for the world’s second most populous nation.
“Pressure and responsibility is always there, but you just have to play your game and give your best,” Sindhu says.
“You don’t have to take on that pressure. I know people expect a lot from you but it’s not so hard to deal with it.”
It is a wonderfully admirable response from the 2017 world championship silver medal winner and the 2013 and 2014 world championship bronze medallist. But despite such nonchalance and her coach, Pullela Gopichand’s best efforts to shield his star charge from the overwhelming level of attention bestowed upon her, Sindhu does admit that ‘life has changed a lot’ since she won silver at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
The now-22 year-old beat the current world number one Tai Tzu Ying on her way to the gold medal match in Rio de Janeiro and was one game away from taking the title. It was quite an achievement from the 1.79m tall woman who had been told throughout her career that she was too tall to be a great badminton player.
It was also an endorsement of some quite extreme pre-Olympic Games measures from coach Gopichand.
“It’s true, I didn’t have my cell phone for three months and for sure no junk or oily food,” Sindhu laughs. “It was not something I regretted, it was for my own good, so I went with it and I came back with the silver medal, so it worked.”
Sindhu’s main rivals for gold next week are likely to be familiar faces. At the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games Sindhu was beaten in the semifinals by Canada’s Michelle Li, who went on to defeat Scot Kirsty Gilmour in the final.
“They are good players, it’s not easy to play against them,” Sindhu says. “You have to have a strategy. You just can’t play easy and think you will win easily.
“They have good strengths, but between us whoever gives their best on the day (will win) it depends on that, we are so close.”
There is, Sindhu agrees, another name that must be added to the mix: her compatriot Saina Nehwal. The woman who won bronze in the women’s singles at the London 2012 Olympic Games and reached world number one in 2015 – an achievement Sindhu is yet to match – is enjoying a resurgence in form.
A run to the final of the Indonesia Masters in January this year is among a series of results that have seen Nehwal climb back to number nine in the world.
“India has been doing really well this year,” Sindhu confirms. “We hope we can come back with lots of medals.”
Sindhu herself is desperate to jump two steps higher on the podium, having finished with bronze in Glasgow four years ago. As world number three, the Indian is comfortably the highest ranked player in the field.
“There have definitely been a lot of changes and improvements in my game since 2014,” Sindhu confirms.
“Step-by-step I have been improving and making a lot of changes.”
Using her considerable height to continue to be as aggressive on court as possible has clearly been one area of focus for Sindhu, as has been her fitness. An extraordinary one hour 50 minute final versus Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara in the 2017 World Championship final was evidence of such work. The Indian may have eventually lost 19-21, 22-20, 20-22, but her performance convinced many observes that the game’s highest prizes will soon be Sindhu’s.
With male player Kidambi Srikanth currently ranked world number two, there is a strong possibility India could claim both individual Commonwealth Games titles. For Sindhu there is a simple reason for such success and a likelihood that the best may still be yet to come.
“India has been doing really well, in the men’s, there are five or six players in the top 50,” Sindhu says. “It’s great that Indian badminton is coming up and there will be many more who do much better (than me). We have great facilities and support.”
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This article was produced by AMP media.