P.V. Sindhu scripted history on Thursday by becoming the first Indian to ever book a berth in the finals of the badminton singles competition at the Olympics. The 21-year-old girl from Hyderabad defeated World No. 6 Nozomi Okuhara of Japan 21-19, 21-10 in 51 minutes and guaranteed India at least a silver medal in the event.
While ensuring a place in the final, Sindhu also became the fifth female athlete from India to manage a podium finish at the world’s biggest sporting extravaganza.
The other four women who have won a medal for India at the Olympics are Karnam Malleswari (bronze in women’s 69 kg weightlifting, Sydney, 2000), Saina Nehwal (bronze in women’s singles badminton, London, 2012), Mary Kom (bronze in women’s flyweight boxing, London, 2012) and Sakshi Malik (bronze in women’s 58kg freestyle wrestling, Rio, 2016). On the other hand, Aditi Ashok, the 18 year old golfer who reached the finals yesterday, may very well become the sixth addition to this list.
Sindhu will now take on World No. 1 Carolina Marin of Spain, the two-time world and European singles champion who defeated Li Xuerui of China in straight games, 21-14, 21-16, in the first of the semi-finals that lasted 55 minutes. The first game in the Sindhu-Okuhara semi-final lasted 27 minutes, in which smashes were eagerly exchanged and points kept coming back and forth. Sindhu, however, dominated the second game from the very start, but it was after 10-all that Sindhu came into her own and won the next 11 points straight. Her smashes were immaculate and, at times, her opponent had absolutely no answers.
India’s previous best performance in badminton at the Olympics has been the bronze medal that Saina Nehwal won in London in 2012. Sindhu was a teenager then, watching the Games on television. In the group stage, Sindhu defeated Laura Sárosi of Hungary 21–8, 21–9 and Michelle Li of Canada 19-21, 21-15, 21-17; in the round of 16, she beat Tai Tzu Ying of Chinese Taipei 21-13, 21-15 to reach the quarter-finals. Sindhu also defeated World No. 2 Wang Yihan of China 22-20, 21-19 to proceed to the semis.
This was Sindhu’s debut at the Olympics and she has guaranteed India at least a silver medal in badminton. India’s only medal so far, being the bronze in women’s freestyle wrestling. Pullela Gopichand, who is now the head coach of the Indian badminton team, said back in 2012. “She will be a complete player once she reaches her full height and has had time to develop her fitness.” Now, those words are coming true. Sindhu’s game is defined by her reach and her steep shots—and physically, she looks supremely fit. Sindhu broke into the Badminton World Federation’s top 20 rankings in 2012, defeating Olympic gold medalist Li Xuerui in the quarter-finals of the China Masters. In 2014, she won the bronze medal in the singles at the Glasgow CWG, and a bronze in the team event at the Asian Games in Incheon.
Although at Rio, the Hyderabad girl is on a giant-killing spree—conquering higher ranked players quite convincingly in the last two ties. But the gold medal match against 23-year-old Marin is not going to be easy. On her road to the final, the World No.1 Marin defeated Nanna Vainio of Finland (21-6, 21-4) and Line Kjarsfeldt of Denmark (21-16, 21-13) in the group stage quite convincingly. In the round of eight, she defeated World No.7 Sung Ji-hyun of Korea in straight games 21-12, 21-16. Marlin also has the upper hand over Sindhu, as she leads the head-to-head encounters against her 4-2. The final match of the women’s single badminton event Rio will be played today at 7:30 PM IST. One last game left to go and who knows, India might win a gold at last. This is it for now, stay tuned for further updates.