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Cover Story
June 09, 2017

PV Sindhu, The Darling Of The Nation, Talks About Her Wins, Losses And Dreams

Text by Shraddha Jahagirdar-Saxena. Photographs by Arjun Mark. Styling by Mohit Rai. Make-Up and Hair by Mehak Oberoi. Location Courtesy: Taj Falaknuma Palace, Hyderabad

The quiet and shy badminton champion has, over the years, successfully morphed into an aggressive sportsperson who leaves nothing to chance…

Scene One: the atmosphere is electric in the capital’s Siri Fort Sports Complex — as on a Friday evening in March, two Indian badminton superstars are battling it out in a much-watched quarter-final. Rhythmic chants, favouring both alternately, resound through its inner spaces. The match culminates in humungous applause when Pusarla Venkata Sindhu, the 2016 Olympic silver medallist, walks away with a win — leaving her opponent, Saina Nehwal, the 2012 Olympic bronze medallist, vanquished. The fact that it is the 21-year-old’s moment in the sun is further reinforced when the tall shuttler wins the India Open Superseries tournament two days later, defeating her Rio nemesis, Carolina Marin, in the finals. Having seen her play live for the first time – and having witnessed her quieter side a short while earlier in her hometown — I am left with startling images of her metamorphosis into a focused, aggressive player — a quicksilver change that in the last 12 months has got her not just a coveted Olympic medal, but her maiden India Open Superseries title — the Yonex Sunrise India Open 2017 — as well as the Malaysia Masters Grand Prix Gold women’s singles title.

Scene Two: a week before the New Delhi match, I find myself in Hyderabad, keeping my date with the World No 3 (in the BWF world ranking, at the time of our interaction with her) who made us all proud last year by becoming the youngest Indian ever to bag a medal at an Olympics tournament. It can be said without any degree of doubt that the tall, lithe shuttler, with that one landmark achievement, carved her niche permanently in Indian sporting history — thereby impacting the imagination of many who now aspire to follow in her footsteps. And the capital of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh that boasts of sporting stars like Sania Mirza and Saina Nehwal produced another icon in Sindhu, the girl who smashed her way into the country’s collective consciousness in August last year.

The sky has turned dark when my vehicle drives into the gated community that Sindhu calls home. After being warmly welcomed into the living room of her abode, my eyes take in the array of medals and trophies in cupboards that line its walls, each telling its own tale of a moment of glory. Returning from her daily practice session, the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna awardee walks in with her parents — P Vijaya and PV Ramana (who have both been volleyball players). She is extremely shy and soft-spoken and, if her face did not give her away, one could easily mistake her for the regular college-going girl-next-door.

Sindhu is far from ordinary though. As is seen when she, with her parents, spends time with us at Taj Falaknuma Palace, sporting designer wear with a degree of curiosity and confidence. And even as our team preps her for the camera, her disciplined attitude comes through – while the crew sips hot tea and coffee and nibbles on cookies, the star shuttler restricts herself to just one glass of orange juice and, of course, water through the hours she is with us. In between shots, she opens up about her hard work, the highs and lows of wins and losses and keeping a cool head through it all.

“I had confidence in myself.”
Initially, when I started playing, no one thought that I would reach so far or that I would get a medal at the Olympics. But, I believed in myself and knew that I had it in me — and that I could do it step by step, through a lot of hard work and practice. That’s how I moved forward; and I’ve been improving year after year.

Success and spotlight is an offshoot of any sport — but the game is only all about playing. As sportspersons, we have to enjoy what we do. If you win you will find your spot on the podium and in the limelight.

“I gave my 100 per cent in Rio.”
Though it was my first Olympics, I did not feel the pressure. When the draw was declared, I knew I had faced almost everyone before — had won some, had lost some. So, I went in with a positive mindset, hoping to play my game well. My coach (Pullela Gopichand) had told me to take one match at a time. I gave off my best. In the previous years, I had won several matches and tournaments — and also got several bronze medals on the international circuit; I knew that I had to definitely up that, no matter what happened at that time.

I learnt a lot in Rio, was exposed to many other players and sports. And when I finally won my first medal, I was completely at a loss for words. I was super happy and on cloud nine. And, I know that I have to work harder. I don’t want my career to be about just this one high — I have to maintain and improve my form.

“I used to be very emotional.”
Earlier, though I was not shy, I was not aggressive. I would be easily affected by things. When I lost points, I would get nervous or be very sad. I have been working hard to strengthen my attitude; I have focused on my mind game. And that really helped me in the two months before the Olympics.

Some time ago, I couldn’t raise my voice but my coach told me that I had to shout. I learnt how to yell, one day at a time, standing in the middle of the court. Now, this comes naturally to me while playing. But off court, I am still the simple, quiet person I always was. I am very lucky that my parents, being volleyball players, know what playing is all about. They have always motivated me and kept me going through all my lows and losses.

“I follow a rigorous routine.”
I started at the age of eight and a half. Initially, I would go to a stadium near my house. In my early teens, I decided that I could be much better than what I was and when I was selected for my first international tournament, I decided that it was time to take myself much more seriously.

Juggling sports and studies was not that easy, but I managed to do it. Initially, no one thought I would be that big, so schooling was given equal importance. I had to live a disciplined life – I still do, in fact. Following a regimen was not difficult — as it ultimately enabled me to become a better player. I always focused on the fact that I had an ambition in life. So no matter how tough or hard life was going to get for me, I decided to go along with it. For coach Gopichand, though a hard taskmaster on court, truly understands his players.

“There have been many sacrifices.”
More than me, my parents made many sacrifices. We used to stay in Secunderabad, about 25 kilometres away from the academy. For more than four years, I travelled to and fro. But, later we shifted closer to the academy and my mother took voluntary retirement. For a long time my father had to travel for work, but now he has taken a break so that he can be with me.

I had become the focus of attention in my family and everyone — including my elder sister — had uncomplainingly adjusted their lives around my schedule. Yet, today, people tend to not see the years of hard work. They only see the success. No one sees the 12 years of rigorous routine that I have put in.

“The responsibilities are huge.”
There are always ups and downs in the game. Once I suffered a big injury and could not play for six months. It was my family and coach who kept my spirits high.

I know that there is a lot riding on every game. When you are playing, after a win, the pressure to win again is higher. But, I do not go on court thinking that I have to win again as that adds unnecessary stress. I play knowing that I have to give my best, knowing that I have trained enough.

And if I am playing against someone who has defeated me earlier, I try not to repeat my mistakes. After every loss, I study my opponent’s matches in even more detail — my coach sits with me and we work out a strategy. And you train harder, hoping to not make that mistake again.

“I can get super hyper.”
Though I get angry very soon, I cool off pretty fast too. If I feel that I have lost a point because of lack of training, I may just hurl the racket down. Or my mind just goes blank and I feel as if I can’t play. My coach helps me a lot by saying it is okay to let a point go. There is no point brooding on it while playing.

I don’t take losses and criticism easily. Once I remember being down in the dumps and I spoke to my father about it — I told him that I was upset because people were talking about me doing badly. He said just one thing: the answer to everything is your racket. You don’t have to say anything. You have to show them what you can do.

“There can be no comparisons.”
Although Saina (Nehwal), Sania (Mirza) and I are all from Hyderabad, you cannot compare the three of us. Each of us is at a different level and we have our own individual style of playing. Sania is into a different sport altogether and both she and Saina have been doing really great.

When I was a junior, Saina had already won many Superseries tournaments. I have often observed her playing and I know that she is aggressive and goes for the big plays, fighting for points until the last moment.

“I am a normal person.”
Brand Sindhu is simply me — I have led a regular life. But all along there has been a lot of hard work. The Olympics is only the starting point. I have a long way to go. It is your belief in yourself that keeps you going, especially when you are coming back from a loss or an injury. There is always the fear that it can happen again — and when you are bouncing back from an enforced rest, you go in knowing that you have not trained for a long time. If you have to overcome hurdles, the main thing is to have confidence in yourself.

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