It would be great disservice to a talent as promising as PV Sindhu to say that the 21-year-old has given her best at this Olympics, and recalibrate her own hopes from self by adding that she would be content with a silver. For a country that had nothing at the Olympics for the first 13 days, PV Sindhu’s commanding march into the final was as good as gold. Except, PV Sindhu is such a big contender for gold at Tokyo that every step she takes from here on – including how she processes this silver – will be seen against that mark.
Carolina Marin, for one, had decided as soon as London wound down, that Rio was to be her Games. Great players deserve a post-mortem of their silvers – it’s what has brought perennial silver man Lee Chong Wei his best chance for an Olympic gold, beating Lin Dan.
So while India’s expectations might be satiated from Sindhu, the badminton world is expecting grander stuff from her now. The All-England, a World Championship, who knows a stunning run to World No 1.
For Sindhu, now an Olympic silver medallist, suddenly all that inconsistency of the last few years feels irrelevant and the lack of Super Series titles seems a hollow quibble – the final against Marin was a match to file away and keep just like she had so many other defeats that helped chisel her game and experience going into Rio.
On Friday, against Marin, Sindhu failed to attack the Spaniard’s backhand – a weakness that can be a little confusing since she’s a left-hander. Against Nozomi Okuhara in the semifinals, Sindhu had attacked the Japanese girl’s backhand and ended the challenge marching into the final. Today, Sindhu would keep hitting at Marin’s forehand – giving her easy plum chances to put away.
There were crosscourt smashes – the ones that she didn’t use as kills that became easy for Marin to pick because they lobbed onto her ready, busy, hyper forehand. The down the line smashes though – that could have troubled Marin – were far too few to entertain hopes that Sindhu’s first set 21-19 win could float on and end in a victory.
Marin was two notches better on the day – prancing around the court in easy movement and with a better shot selection and tactical nous at all times. Marin has that effect on players: she can cause panic by just being left-handed even before she starts her celebrating, yowling routine that actually gets her into a lot of perception trouble with the chair umpire.
But maybe it was Sindhu’s angle of shots – that’s always been this — going on the backhand of the right-hander, leaving a ferocious player like Marin free to run riot on her forehand.
The Spaniard would take the lead, and then even if she lost a few in a bunch, she always seemed to know she was capable of finishing it off. The first set was almost gifted to a pugnacious Sindhu who was there to pounce onto it as soon as it appeared. Marin’s errors and some high-risk stubborn badminton at the net meant Sindhu needed to stay nerveless herself which she did — in fact has been throughout this Olympic. Not many would guess she was at her first.
Yet she will kick herself for not exploiting Marin’s backhand chinks enough. Marin fundamentally has always found it comfortable to play Sindhu because the attack doesn’t dent her too much, though Gopi and Sindhu had some effective plans to stay in the long rallies and plant doubts in Marin’s mind.
Sindhu would retrieve well, but her smash — whether opening or the kill — found a wall in Marin’s dogged defense, even as her backhand side wasn’t tested.
Looking back, a silver for Sindhu, a dark horse this Olympics seems extra-ordinary. Yet looking ahead, the next rung of bigger titles will be expected to show up in succession now.
Yet, Sindhu’s left a mark on the world. Affable and conducting herself with a lot of grace, Sindhu is a popular figure on the circuit and wears her achievements lightly. She’s buddies with some of the Chinese and Korean players, and had once even got a massage from a Chinese masseuse.
It has helped that Saina Nehwal has left her a clutch of goals to chase, and she has shown she can outdo India’s best — Padukone, Gopichand or Nehwal — for she has the talent and the flair and the physique.
Technically there’s much to learn that will make her an even bigger player. Taking time between points, managing her centre of gravity and her speed. And the inconsistency is expected to be shrugged off.
Yet India will not forget her long, hard paced rallies, the power with which she played and that dipping smash. The smash of a champ. Worthy of a gold medal.
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