The golden glow after silver linings

PV Sindhu cheers after winning her women's singles final match against Japan's Nozomi Okuhara at the BWF Badminton World Championships in Basel, Switzerland, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. AP/PTI

PV Sindhu was fifth-time lucky in the World Championship. Her silver medal at the Rio Olympics was followed by successive runners-up finishes in Worlds in 2017 and 2018. But despite her remarkable achievements, she had been fighting the tag of an eternal bridesmaid. Her inability to clinch the final was hurting her young legacy. On Sunday, she shut out the naysayers in a dominating manner.

The dominant 21-7, 21-7 win over Nozomi Okuhara in the World Championship final in Basel on Sunday silenced her critics and brought relief to Sindhu. 

Last year, Sindhu won silver medals at the Asian Games, Commonwealth Games, Thailand Open and India Open. Her gold in the season-ending finale in Dubai stood out as a solitary exception.

The 2019 hadn’t begun on an ideal note for her. Several early round exits raised the alarm bells. Then, in April, the Sports Authority of India hired a Korean coach in Kim Ji Hyun, a gold medallist in 1994 Asian Games. She played in two Olympics in 1996 and 2000 and retired in 2001. Kim was quick to notice that Sindhu was not playing her naturally attacking game. She observed the 24-year-old had to mix her shots and not stick to rallies - a style she had adopted post the Rio Games. The difference could be seen in her victories against Tai Tzu Ying, Chen Yuefei and Nozomi Okuhara.

“At the top level, you have to be smart. It has to be a combination, like your technique, and hitting and mentality. There are so many skills she has to work on, especially net skills and deception. We’re working on skills, and changing tactics, as you can’t use the same tactics over and over again,” Kim was quoted as saying in BWF website during the world championships.

Her 2017 final with Okuhara was a brutal slugfest, a contest which even today is considered one of the finest women’s singles contests. It was a bitter loss for Sindhu after excruciating one hour and 50 minutes. In 2018 she lost to Carolina Marin, to whom she had lost in the Olympics final.

Kim was clear that Sindhu needed to conserve her energy in the matches. In the final against Okuhara on Sunday, the Hyderabadi was a transformed player. Unlike her previous matches, 2017 final in particular, Sindhu kept the points short. She used the drop shot cleverly to bring the player closer to the net and smash. She used her height to advantage without expending much energy. Okuhara was left stunned by Sindhu’s speedy execution - many a time stranded, and exasperated.

During the two-week break she got last month, Sindhu had trained extensively with Kim who brought changes to her game.

In fact, she arranged a special afternoon session to polish the wristy shots which Sindhu was using a lot before Rio. She worked on when to use what shots. It was something Sindhu was trying to perfect in Japan and Indonesia last month.

By the time the World Championships arrived, Sindhu knew what to do. It reflected in her matches. She was in control, quickly opening up leads and going for the kill. For someone who had come so close to clinching the title, Sindhu knew the value of gold medal. As she allowed herself the indulgence of some tears when the national anthem was played in the stadium, it was reassuring to know she was back to her best. Perhaps, even better.

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