Updated: April 3, 2017 2:44:36 pm
This will not quite make up for the disappointment of the Rio Olympics final, but will do nicely for now. PV Sindhu was threatening to take over the mantle of India’s shuttle queen for some time now, and over this week, under the most intense pressure, on home turf, the tall girl from Hyderabad ticked all the boxes. In the quarterfinal, she prevailed over Saina Nehwal, who strode like a colossus in Indian badminton for a decade, and on Sunday, put it across her Rio tormentor Carolina Marin — both in straight games.
The baton was well and truly passed on when Marin’s smash hit the net for a 21-19, 21-16 verdict. It is only Sindhu’s second Super Series title, after the China Open triumph late last year, but coming at the beginning of the year with several big tournaments to come, it is one of her most significant triumphs. There were four other finals at the Yonex-Sunrise India Open on Sunday, but there was no doubt for whom the Siri Fort Sports Complex was bursting at the seams. Every available vantage point was taken, with the organisers too catching the mood. A dancing troupe performed on the court with ‘Jai Ho’ blaring from the public address system.
With such a frenzy cultivated, defeat was not an option. And Sindhu did not disappoint. Even the announcement of the arrival of sports minister Vijay Goel at a critical juncture in the match did not distract her. The significance of the occasion could be gauged from the fact that chief national coach Pullela Gopichand was sitting right behind his protégé, along with the specialist singles coach Indonesian Mulyo Handoyo, for the only time in the tournament.
Despite beating Sindhu in the gold medal match in Rio, Marin enjoys great support in India. She was cheered throughout the week, but as Sindhu arrived on court for the final, the noise almost brought the roof down. Both players knew what was at stake. For Sindhu, a chance to become the leading light in contemporary Indian badminton, and for Marin, who has fallen off the pace in recent times, an opportunity to clinch her first title since the Olympics.
Both shuttlers felt the pressure in the early going, but it was Sindhu who was dictating play. She was the more aggressive player on court, with hard smashes at Marin’s body, drives into the corners and deft net play complemented by panther-like speed while going for the kill. The crowd was living every moment of the 47-minute contest. Whenever Marin succeeded in stringing a few points together, one could sense an anxiety in the stands. A Sindhu point, subsequently, brought out a roar of relief.
The first game was a nip-and-tuck affair. After Marin ate into an early 6-1 lead Sindhu had, there were never more than three points between them. Most points were being decided by errors. The Spaniard caught up at 17-all and even led 19-18. It is there that the match turned. Sindhu restored parity with a kill at the net after a smash. Marin helped her out when, out of anxiety, she hit her own kill wide. A smash at the body sealed the opener, prompting a big fist pump.
Sindhu kept her foot on the pedal at the start of the second game, running up a 4-0 lead in the blink of an eye. Though Marin continued to eat into the margin, she could never get back on level terms thereafter.
The two are good friends off court, and even shared some relaxed moments after the match. It did not prevent them, however, from indulging in some mind games on court. Both players were taking their time between points, wandering around the court, and were spoken to by the chair umpire on more than one occasion. For such a significant victory of her career, it was quite an understated celebration from Sindhu. She raised her arms, turned to all corners of the arena, before running towards ‘Gopi sir.’ It, maybe, shows her growing confidence and maturity as she knows it should be the start of bigger things to come.
“It is a very important Super Series tournament, at home and at the start of the year. I was fighting for every point and am very happy at how I played throughout the tournament,” the Indian star said. Marin was left to rue mistakes at crucial stages of the final, but was impressed with the improvement in Sindhu’s game since Rio. “Errors at the end of the first game hurt me badly. I played well here, but every player is improving by the day, and it is small things that make the difference.” The Spaniard is confident her title drought will end soon. “I am getting better after injury. The confidence is coming back and I am motivated to keep fighting hard,” the Olympic champion said.
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