Heralding a new era: PV Sindhu’s silver lining in an emphatic Olympic debut
PV Sindhu created history by winning India’s first Olympic badminton silver, and it was the stepping stone for the shuttler to be the star she has eventually become
It marked the rise of the nation as a powerhouse of badminton and the feat of a young 21-year-old four years later helped set the bar even higher.
On August 19, 2016, PV Sindhu put in a spirited fight in the final at the 2016 Rio Olympics but ultimately ended up with the Olympic silver, a monumental effort that brought the world and India to its feet.
It may have come as a surprise to the global audience, but Sindhu had been steadily rising in the years leading up to the Rio 2016 Olympics.
The road to Rio 2016
Her elder sister was a national-level handball player, but it was badminton that gained the young Sindhu's attention and she eventually went on to fine-tune her skills under All England champion and Indian badminton legend Pullela Gopichand.
The young shuttler would travel 56 kilometres to Gopichand’s badminton academy, showing her immense dedication and passion towards the sport. It soon paid off as Sindhu started making an impact on the international stage.
The win against Li Xuerui admittedly proved to be a turning point for the Indian.
More success followed, including her first Grand Prix Gold title, India's first women's singles medal at the World Championships and a Commonwealth Games bronze.
She also claimed a second bronze at the 2014 World Championships in Copenhagen, going down in the semi-finals to Carolina Marin, a name that would prominently feature in PV Sindhu’s historic moments to come.
An incredible run in Rio for Sindhu
As a young 21-year-old shuttler, no one in India knew what to expect from PV Sindhu at her maiden Olympics.
The Indian badminton hopeful had been performing well in big tournaments but had to overcome a serious stress fracture in 2015 to make it through to the Rio 2016 Games. It was a daunting task even for the world’s best, not to mention a player barely a few years into adulthood.
So, when Saina Nehwal – the undisputed Indian badminton star at the time - crashed out in the group stage following a loss against Ukraine’s Maria Ulitina, most onlookers bid India’s chance of another medal in badminton adieu.
However, instead of being weighed down by the focus that Saina Nehwal’s exit had brought to her, PV Sindhu embraced the pressure.
“I was not thinking about the medal from the beginning. Looking at the tough draw, I knew I had to think about one match at a time.”
The Indian shuttler made quick work of Laura Sarosi in her first match, beating her 21-8, 21-9. PV Sindhu then held her nerve against Michelle Li, who she had fallen to at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, in a 19-21, 21-15, 21-17 victory to go through to the last 16.
In the pre-quarters, PV Sindhu arguably notched her most impressive win yet, as she cruised past Chinese Taipei’s Tai Tzu-ying 21-13, 21-15. The shuttler’s incredible form continued as she got the better of Wang Yihan, for the second time in two years, 22-20, 21-19, to reach the semi-finals.
Awaiting her in the semi-finals was second seed Nozomi Okuhara, who PV Sindhu had only beaten once at that point, and their games had tended to run the full three games.
However, the Hyderabadi shuttler was in inspired form, as she capitalised on Okuhara’s errors to settle into a rhythm and eventually win 21-19, 21-10.
It was the first time Sindhu had beaten her Japanese counterpart in straight games and it was the best possible form to carry into the final, the furthest any Indian shuttler had reached at the Olympics.
A marathon final effort
The final pitted PV Sindhu against then two-time World Champion and world No.1 Carolina Marin.
It was a nerve-wracking match for players and viewers alike. PV Sindhu started brightly and held in the long rallies to win the opening game.
However, Marin came back strongly in the second - the Spanish shuttler was quick across the court and decisive with her smashes - to win it in just 20 minutes.
“Carolina was playing so well in the second,” PV Sindhu told the DNA website. “I was just like ‘let's play’, but even then I didn't leave it like that and put in a lot of effort.”
With the momentum firmly with Marin, the top seed gave PV Sindhu the run-around in the deciding game to beat her 19-21, 21-12, 21-15 to take home the Olympic gold medal.
“I never gave up till the very end,” said the Indian. “I came back from 16-19 to win five straight points to win the first game. So, it was always playing in my mind that anything could still happen.”
PV Sindhu may have fallen in the final but it made her the first Indian badminton player to become an Olympics silver medallist.
More importantly for PV Sindhu, the Olympic medal gave her the springboard to become the undisputed star of Indian badminton.
“Life has changed both on and off the court after the Rio Olympics medal. I have a lot of confidence on the court now and feel anything is possible”
She took that confidence and ran with it, bagging more medals on the way, including at the BWF World Championships, the Commonwealth Games, and the Asian Games.
In 2019, PV Sindhu went on to win her and India’s maiden BWF World Championship gold and took the title of world champion from Carolina Marin, who had defeated PV Sindhu in the Rio Olympics final.
Over the years, PV Sindhu has emerged as a consistent performer at the biggest badminton events. And with the Tokyo Olympics, the biggest stage of them all, beckoning, she will be determined to ascend the top step of the podium this time around.