PV Sindhu jumped like a boy when she smashed Nozomi Okuhara. Higher even. Gold or silver medal-high in fact.
Not only is jump-smashing astoundingly rare in women’s badminton (coach Gopichand’s clear instructions in the break were ‘Jump and smash, jump and toss’), but for someone who towers over most others and makes the badminton court look smaller than it is, owing to her wing span, maxing the vertical reach was the surest signs of targeting the topmost medal there is after her 21-19, 21-10 win.
Pusarla Venkatasai Sindhu is on the brink of battling for an Olympic gold medal at Rio de Janeiro – and on the threshold to corner for India the glory that has eluded the country for 13 whole days this Games, and for 8 years since Abhinav Bindra’s gold.
It was glory that escaped her sports’ playing parents altogether as India never reached the heights in a sport they chose. Sindhu, the 21-year old daughter of Vijaya and PV Ramana – both former volleyball players,
and chosen charge of Pullela Gopichand – whom that Olympic glory eluded for 16 years now since he returned from Sydney 2000 without a medal, has assured India a top-two podium, giving the sorry contingent here delirious news as the Games draw to an end. She sets up a final clash with Spaniard Carolina Marin, the world’s most dominant player of the last two years, though the Indian has been in such rampaging form that Indians across the world can stop all that they’re doing at 11 am Brazilian time on Friday.
Coach Gopichand was in Sindhu’s ear every moment of the match, feeding her game-plans, breaking down every small movement, reading the winds on which way the Japanese Okuhara’s game was heading.
Sindhu – the tall, long legged girl, polite to a fault and whose game has been razor sharp and smashing relentless; her net and drops rather deft and defense solid – who has two World Championship bronze medals and no Super Series crown, trashed all pre-game predictions to emerge on the final peak of the draw in a post-Chinese domination world of badminton.
It’s turned out to be quite a turnaround in 24 hours for India with two supremely focussed ladies medalling in what has been a barren Olympics.
Father Ramana has said Sindhu has not been using the phone for a month now, she’s been off Twitter since the start of the Games and the young girl who can cut a pretty pose in modelling shoots – her tresses ironed stylishly, has let the hair curl out – wildly and naturally – this last one month.
Moreover, she has been in boot camp mode with coach Gopichand, working last two months on her fitness and agility – two things that have stood out and are a mammoth departure from a year ago when she was still work in progress.
Sindhu always had the attacking game, the steep smashes and the firepower in her kill strokes. She’s added a base of defense to it – tougher than for most others given how tall players struggle owing to their higher centre of gravity. This Olympics, she has hit a hitting zone where she’s made each of her opponents look as if playing a lesser pace, and raised hopes that the top prize might not be too far off. “One match at a time,” she’s been saying, having gone under the radar given she’s been raned No 10 and thereabouts through the last year.
Twitter would go beserk in response as soon as she rattled off 10 points in the second set after gritting through the posers thrown at her in a few long Okuhara rallies, and Abhinav Bindra would dangle the offer to join him in the stratosphere of individual gold medallists.
And it’s been a stunning run for coach Pullela Gopichand – taking a second athlete to the Olympic finals, a step further than last time.
“No pressure. It’s just a great moment for me playing the Olympics finals,” Sindhu would say. She’s beaten opponents who have troubled her in the past, thrashed a few that tend to trouble the rest of the world, and on Thursday beat her own nervousness that has troubled most Indians who have been in striking distance of a medal at Rio.
The medal count might not match London, but this is a sensational result for Indian badminton – to play the biggest final that there will be internationally – of the next four years. And the elegant woman with a beast of a smash, is promising India to fly.