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Badminton star PV Sindhu, who is all set to score some serious points at the upcoming Malaysian Open next week, talks about life on the court, and off it. By Manju Latha Kalanidhi & Nishad Neelambaran

Two years ago, badminton coach Pullela Gopichand, on a whim, joined his favourite pupil, superstar shuttler Sania Nehwal, in a tough two-on-one game at his training academy in Hyderabad, playing against budding teen star, PV Sindhu. What followed was one of the most exciting matches of her life, says Sindhu, admitting that being able to face two titans without a sliver of doubt in her mind is what makes her what she is today. _VIN0287
Currently ranked world number 12 in women’s badminton, she is the first-ever Indian to win a medal at the World Championships (2013) in the women’s singles category, while breaking into the top 20 in the Badminton World Federation rankings of 2012. Her other achievements include an Arjuna Award in 2013,CNN-IBN’s Indian of the Year (sports) in 2013 and the Padma Shri in 2015, to name a few.
Malaysia seems to be her lucky charm as she made headlines by becoming the first women’s singles player to win two Malaysian Masters titles in its eight editions. Although she did crash out of the Swiss Open Grand Prix Gold quarterfinals last month, within 32 minutes, the spirited fighter believes it’s all in a day’s work. Currently, her tour calendar will take her from New Delhi to the Malaysian Open, which begins on April 6, followed by the Singapore Open and the Asian Badminton Championship at the end of the month. She’s also gearing up for the Olympics, for which the qualification rounds are currently on (till May 5). But for now, this 20-year-old’s crosshairs are set on Malaysia.

Breaking out
It couldn’t have been easy for Sindhu to make her mark in a city like Hyderabad, given that it’s home to one of the world’s best players, Gopichand, Olympic champion Nehwal, and doubles specialist Jwala Gutta, among others. But clearly the word ‘impossible’ means little to her, as the gawky Cancerian from Secunderabad managed to break-out and find her own ground. Gopichand, who is not only her coach, but her idol as well, says, “Sindhu always plays a neat game at the net, and her consistency is marvellous. In fact, nothing comes between the game and her.” Academics will take a backseat too, she admits, if it’s about her favourite game. “I am pursuing my MBA (finance) at St Ann’s Degree College for Women, Mehdipatnam, but obviously I can’t give my exams this year. My real exam is on the court,” she smiles.

Hard ball
She picked up the racquet at the age of eight, when she began to learn the basics of the game from legendary coach Mehboob Ali (who also coached top players like Gutta and Nehwal). Later, she joined the Pullela Gopichand Academy in 2008. Interestingly, her parents used to play volleyball for India. “But they never forced me to play it, and supported me when I showed prowess in badminton. I began to play only for fun. I never imagined it would become my profession or that I would be in the world top 20 list,” shares Sindhu. Besides her victory over world number 1, Carolina Marin, at the Denmark Open last year, one of her career highlights (so far) was winning her first bronze medal at the World Championships. But life on the court hasn’t always been a fairy tale. Besides the Swiss Open, where she got knocked out, one of her worst matches was when she lost against a junior Indonesian player, despite leading with a huge gap. “In some matches, if I lose a series of points, I get into this zone where I find everything is against me. And that leads to a series of negative thoughts. This is when the errors begin to happen; the kind I want to kick myself for after the match. However, if I remain focussed and unperturbed, I tend to win back those lost points,” she explains.
And while she appears to be a complete go-getter on the court, Sindhu says that she’s quite chilled out in person. In fact, her laughter, especially after her wins, are famous! “On the court, however, I can get quite menacing,” she reminds us. Incidentally, she finds her inspiration from the other racquet game—tennis. “I love the way Sania (Mirza) puts the country on the global sports map every time she steps on to the court. Also, thinking of Roger Federer’s backhand, and his down-to-earth attitude, and Novak Djokovic’s confident smile, even during a tough match, puts me in good spirits whenever I feel low.”

Fans select
Sindhu has quite the fan following wherever she goes. “Some of my favourite moments are when I go to college, and the students and faculty want to pose with me for a selfie, and tag me online as well. That is when I feel like a celebrity,” shares the MBA student. But this shuttler shares that she doesn’t let it go to her head. “I feel humbled. Sure I love the adulation, but I behave responsibly amid fans. A lot of selfies are requested at airports, and I always oblige,” she confesses.

Busy bee
The only online space you will find Sindhu on is Instagram (though she has a Twitter account, she retweets more than she tweets). In fact, she barely has time to answer her phone. Her mother, Vijaya, acts as her coordinator, including on this exclusive interview. However, once in a while, you’ll spot the lanky athlete posting a photograph or two online. Needless to say, her 38,000 fans on Facebook, 25,000 followers on Twitter, and 8,000 admirers on Instagram patiently wait for her updates.

“Some of my favourite moments are when I go to college, and the students and faculty want to pose with me for a selfie,
and tag me online as well. That is when I feel like a celebrity”

Expert speak“Sindhu has got everything in her game to beat the world number 1 today​. What I have generally seen is that womvijay_lancyen players tend to rally a lot. But Sindhu can finish a rally with a sharp shot in the middle of the court due to her height. She has a good attacking game, she is quick on her feet, and has a very strong cross-court smash. I enjoyed watching her performance in last year’s Denmark Open. She had just got back from an injury then, but managed to beat Carolina Marin, then world number 1, in the semi finals. She lost out in the finals to Li Xuerui, but that was a great display of strength, I think​. Despite these many pluses, we have seen Sindhu crashing out early in important tournaments. What separates a Nehwal from a Sindhu is consistency. I am not talking about winning the tournaments consistently, but going till the quarterfinals or semis. At this point in her career, she must try to be consistent, and look at going forward in important tournaments, because she hasn’t done well in the last three-four games. She also needs to watch out when the opponent manages to match her pace on the court. That situation gets tricky.”
—Vijay Lancy, CEO,
Prakash Padukone Sports Management
Coach connectvimal_kumar“Sindhu has already beaten most of the top players in the world. It’s just about finding consistency in her game and remaining injury-free, and she can be quite the tough one to play against. That she is one of the tallest badminton players in the circuit works to her advantage, and helps her to execute half smashes really well. At 20, she also has age on her side. She needs to slightly improve her temperament, and work on core strength—which applies to badminton players in general as well—and she has a good future. Her performance at the 2014 World Championship at Copenhagen is my personal favourite. She was way down in the third match and the quarter final, but she fought back.”
—Vimal Kumar, former chief coach of India and Nehwal’s trainer

Addiction: Shopping! Her favourite brands are Zara, Diesel, American Eagle and Levi’s

On the loop:  AR Rahman, Justin Bieber, Bruno Mars and One Direction

Food: Biryani and Italian cuisine

Kicking back: Hard Rock Café, Heart Cup Coffee and Paradise (all in Hyderabad)

Sports icons: Sania Mirza, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic

Wanderlust

Speaking of her favourite destinations, Sindhu says, “I love Switzerland and Australia for its weather. But if there is one place I could go to, it would be Las Vegas to try my luck!”

On the plate
No burgers or pizzas for Sindhu, as these foods clash with her stamina build-up. However, she is allowed to cheat once a month, which is when she indulges in biryani from street-side eateries. On other days, she follows a non-spicy, high protein diet.

On the ball
She works out for about seven hours a day. Her trainers, Johnson and Kiran, ensure her routine includes weight training, running, endurance workout, agility training, speed workout and multi-shuttle practices

—With inputs from Barkha Kumari

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