The Olympics silver medal promises to be a start of something spectacular. Not many can say that, given the quadrennial tends to be the pinnacle of sporting careers. But here is PV Sindhu, whose big event temperament has been so outrageously brilliant that she still had to check one box of the everyday badminton circuit: a Super Series title.
Like her booming smashes, she went straight for the steepest one, the Super Series Premier crown in China, beating the top Chinese Sun Yu, no less, in the final. To the world, it was the next level that Sindhu needed to conquer; to coach Gopichand it was just something that was bound to happen sooner or later, he’d always maintained Sindhu was made of champion stuff.
A 69-minute, 21-11, 17-21, 21-11 win with the only inflection coming in the second set that she ought to have wrapped up when she led 14-10 and grabbed the title sooner. It gave the 21-year-old Indian her first ever Super Series title in her second final.
Around the time you were ordering in that Chinese for the Sunday lunch, Sindhu was chomping away at a Chinese game that wasn’t quite in her league on the day. Sindhu looked superior to Sun Yu in both fitness and stroke-making. She ran away with the opening set 21-11, not once conceding the lead. There was the usual staple of drops and half smashes, but far more down-the-liners as Sun Yu struggled to get a measure of the lines, with the drift tailwind sending her shots awry. The 22-year-old Chinese was 21-11 down in less than 20 minutes.
Sun Yu had a marginal advantage over the Indian at the net where Sindhu lacks a tad in finesse, though there was a backhand kill from the midcourt at 12-9 where Sindhu’s racquet flicked so subtly that it stumped the long-limbed Chinese with her dependable defence despite that reach. Yet at 14-all, Sun warded off a body-smash and hit her first curving overhead to go from 10-14 down to 16-14 up. In the briefest of zones, the Chinese looked like she could halt her errors and impose her beastly game, levelling the match.
But the errors – shuttles hit wide, floating long, tame returns into the net, the bird tapped from beyond the net line, body grazing the mesh, serves that crossed lines – just didn’t seem to stop as the Chinese crowd became resigned to the fact that the home girl wasn’t about to overturn this one.
Meanwhile for Sindhu, 17-20 down in the second set was almost déjà vu. She’d been in that scenario the previous afternoon, though more desperate with the match on the line. She’d cede the lead here, and was hauled into the decider.
“I think it’s my self-confidence. I give my 100 per cent and play at any given point,” she said. In the semis, this self-assured mind-zone had helped her fight back, today it helped her stamp her class.
There was very little retaliation after Sindhu pulled away from 5-5 to take the lead, and kept it till the end. Sun Yu stared down at a puddle of the same errors reflecting her glum helplessness, her coaches unable to stem the slide.
“Today she was in no hurry to take the points and played patiently,” coach Siadutt said, allowing Sun Yu’s resistance to be swallowed up by Sindhu’s perfect execution of a plan. The stoicism was crucial because the coach adds, “She wanted the Super Series title at any cost.”
A bit of a background here. Sindhu might have two World Championship medals and an Olympic silver. But it baffled many on the circuit how her spoils from the year-round circuit were so meagre: just one final, and no title still.
She returned to competition after the Olympics in Korea, before hopping off to play the European swing. In Denmark, she would beat Chinese youngster He Bingjiao, but lose to her next week in France. There were mundane results for the rest of the world, but the seed of a doubt that’s shadowed her, exploded as she broke down angry with herself after the Round 2 loss in Paris. “She was very upset that she couldn’t be consistent (beat the same player twice), and it changed something in her. She’s tasted blood at the Olympics now. She’s determined to sustain it,” coach Madhumita Bisht explains.
“That determination to win a tournament is impressive. After the Olympics, she’s such a big celebrity. It must be very difficult to refocus on the court. But hats off to her,” Arvind Bhat says.
As such, Sindhu was a notch below her level at the Olympics, but her foundation of core fitness is so strong that she could last the long rallies and hour-plus long matches.
“It has been my dream for a long time to win a Super Series. After the Olymics everyone was asking me what’s next? It was important for me to get a Super Series title. Life changed a lot after the Olympics. People thought I would take a long time to come back, but I worked hard,” Sindhu told BWF. “For a long time everyone’s asking me ‘When will you win a Super Series?’ Finally I’ve done it,” she added.
“It was important for her, but it’s fine, I wouldn’t have stressed if she hadn’t won. It had to happen some day. It’s important to be patient, trust her, you can’t force these things,” coach Gopichand said, though he was punch pleased
with how hard she fought and how well she played. “She’ll have good wins, bad losses, she’ll learn to adjust to drift, courts, various emotions,” said the mentor.