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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

PV Sindhu: India’s G.O.A.T (Grittiest Of All Time)

Ace shuttler PV Sindhu became India's first woman double medallist, winning a hard-fought bronze against Chinese He Bingjiao, 21-13, 21-18.

Written by Shivani Naik |
Updated: August 2, 2021 6:48:42 am
PV SindhuIndia's PV Sindhu poses for photographs while standing on the podium after receiving the bronze medal. (PTI)

In what is a testament to Sindhu’s outstanding ability to medal at most global events, Sindhu also became the first woman internationally since 2008, to medal in women’s singles in back to back Olympics. Only three other women – Korean Bang Soo Hyun, Indonesian legend Susi Susanti and Chinese double champion Zhang Ning have been on the podium at successive Games.

While a gold has been elusive for the Indians at the Games, she stomped out stacked fields in two straight Olympic cycles, to maintain her place in the 1-2-3 over the last 5 years – something that none of her contemporaries have managed, owing to injury or big-occasion fragility.

She is yet to lose to a Chinese shuttler when a medal is at stake at the big stage.

More than anything else, Sindhu got the job done, 24 hours after her biggest dream of an Olympic gold, crashed to the floor. In what was her most commanding display of the Games, Sindhu was pushed for every point she won, and even more on the ones that He BJ nicked away from her.

Sindhu’s success has always been built on a base of a ploughman’s plod. Not for her since the World Championship of 2019, when she rode roughshod over all in sight, the spectacular sizzle of a Tai or the clinical precision of Chen Yufei. Sindhu earns her big smash winners, from long rallies of retrieving to all corners. She works the laying down of the ambushes, bit by bit before she can rain down the kills from her steep smashes.

On Sunday, battling for bronze, Sindhu had to release herself from the burdensome bind of India’s famous 4th place. He Bingjiao isn’t a manic runner, nor does she boast of irretrievable smashes. What she can do successfully is suck the power out of any Sindhu smash, smother the force in the rally to deny the Indian any pace. This meant, Sindhu had to work her limbs to generate power everytime she sent the shuttle back. It’s easier to use an opponent’s pace on a fast court to deflect and work the angles. Here she was re-starting the engine shot after shot.

As such, it was apt that the reward for this plod was a bronze. Because it was hard work.

All those months spent making her defense solid were put to test. He BJ made her defend all around the net, kept a steady supply of flat pushes and made her run around till the very end. Unlike against Tai, Sindhu could find her wits and the time to persevere before she shifted pressure on the Chinese. Sindhu wasn’t unduly hassled by the southpaw angles. Instead she used her crosscourt smashes and drops – a chunky dozen of them to attack He BJ’s backhand back corner.

Sindhu struck a good length, tossing high to draw out He BJ’s smash errors into the net, and once that was established, she collected points in a bunch from 5-5 onwards in the first set. The scores stayed close thereafter, but it was clear the Chinese couldn’t win the attacking game against the Indian who stayed sharp, made next to no errors and showed no tiredness in the long rallies.

Sindhu doesn’t always need to scream to show her intent. Against the technically proficient Chinese, she had to chase the shuttle to every corner of the court, and in that the Indian displayed her work ethic and commitment. Going into the interval at 11-8, she would open up a gap, but close out with a string of versatile winners. The outwitting at the net at 13-8, the smash-tap sequence at 17-11, a round the head zinger, an unfettered straight smash, Sindhu would pin He BJ to the 12 points, and power along with no mercy from her end.

The cross court smashes got even more menacing in the second, and Sindhu merrily went for a body shot early in the set. Bingjiao’s last resistance happened around the mid-game interval of the second, when surprisingly she attempted to unfurl a backcourt flurry, dumping her reliance on the net. It was like opening a dainty six spoke umbrella in a stormy bluster of showers. She got rained over.

For four matches at this Olympics Sindhu has lapsed into a concentration fade at around this point. She was alert for the lull today and went double quick at Bingjiao from then. While her pushes and cross drops were bothering the Chinese, the latter narrowed it at 15-13. The Indian didn’t allow a breach.

Playing boldly at the net, drawing from the confidence of coach Park Tae Sang’s encouragement, she pushed He BJ back. A long rally – they averaged 20 today in that passage of play – ended with a monster cross smash. At 16-13, she knew she would sprint on the home straight. He BJ hadn’t gifted her winners, but the Indian had taken control in every rally from frantically defensive positions, to drive in the knife.

A backline winner at 17-14 was just reward for all her toil, and despite trading punch clears, Sindhu would be in striking distance at 18-14. Perhaps Sindhu’s most-improved shots since Rio, giving her a well-rounded game, are her backhand drives. And it was this stroke that gave India its third medal of the Games.

Sindhu has won the World Championship playing more aggressively than this. She’s won a higher medal – silver at Rio, getting the better of players ranked above her. But she will prize this bronze medal. She woke up on a saddening Sunday, went out there and punched in the gut the total wretchedness of a 4th place. It makes her India’s grittiest of all time.

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