PV Sindhu Rising To The Top
VOGUE India|October 2021
No stranger to challenges, this trio of Olympic winners is bringing forth athletic equality by fostering an arena for change with their fierce, competitive spirit.
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India’s most marketable female athlete, the Hyderabad-based badminton star opens up to Arun Janardhan about expectations and the pressures of fame

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Since her return from the Tokyo Olympics, PV Sindhu has been clocking miles faster than some of her on-court smashes tend to be. It’s been just over two months since the event ended and the badminton player has already been to Hyderabad (where she lives), Lucknow, Vijayawada, Visakhapatnam, Mumbai, Tirupati and Delhi, where she had icecream with the prime minister. It is part of an enduring celebration to mark an achievement that’s rare in India—an Olympic medal.

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Her bronze in the women’s singles, one of India’s seven medals in the Games, can be seen as a triumph or a let-down, considering she has a silver from the 2016 edition and was expected to go one better. Sindhu was one of India’s brightest hopes at the Games, and she carried those expectations on her lithe 5’9” frame without the trappings or tantrums of stardom, finishing her run one match short of what was anticipated. “After the semi-final [she lost to Taipei’s Tai Tzuying] I was upset. My coach [Park Tae-sang] told me that there is a lot of difference between a bronze and the fourth position. It was tough to come out [for the next match]. When you lose, the feeling is different. But being on the podium is not easy,” she says. Sindhu subsequently defeated China’s He Bing Jiao for a third-place finish, looking heavenwards in relief as coach Park screamed with joy. She is now only the second individual, after wrestler Sushil Kumar, to have won two Olympic medals in post-Independence India.

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India’s most marketable female athlete and among the world’s highest-earning sportswomen, Sindhu’s understated middle-class values root her strongly to reality and help manage unrealistic expectations from fans and the fraternity. Her parents Vijaya and Ramana played volleyball competitively, but as fate would have it, the younger of their two daughters trotted into an adjoining badminton court at age seven. That triggered a lasting relationship with the sport, inculcating in Sindhu a heady mix of skills, technique, speed, agility and the stamina to succeed. Coach Pullela Gopi Chand moulded the talent into adulthood, guiding her to second place in Rio and her highest ranking of world No2 in 2017.

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Since then, Sindhu has worked on her technique, with help over the last year and more from Park. The pandemic, in a way, helped after she secured permission to practise at the Gachibowli stadium, which allowed her the ‘feel’ of a large arena. Unlike ‘normal’ times, international players could not gauge their opponents in the badminton circuit because there have been few tournaments since March 2020. “Due to the pandemic, we didn’t know how the [other] athlete was doing. That was different in Tokyo—everyone had different techniques and we had to be prepared for anything,” says the 26-year-old who has her sights set on Paris 2024.

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