“Unless you shout, nobody is going to play,” coach Pullela Gopichand tells his protégé Pusarla Venkata Sindhu. He has her standing at the very centre of the eight courts at the Gopichand Badminton Academy, between courts four and five. Dozens of players have stopped their games. All eyes are on her.
She is not unused to this, but her wins were always characterised by endurance and quiet persistence. Where her opponents grunted and screamed and punched their fists in the air, Sindhu calmly played her point and readied for the next.
In 2013, at the semi-final match that led to the bronze, her opponent was Ratchanok Intanon from Thailand. They were both the same age, 18. Yet, Intanon appeared in command of the court; Sindhu could well have been the wallflower.
Back on the court at the academy, everybody is waiting, wondering perhaps, why the giant killer cannot just shout. Sindhu knows, intellectually, why she needs to. It projects force and confidence, it is acknowledgement of a good play and it is also a performance motivator—a game face, so to speak. But she cannot do it. She starts crying. “I don’t know what happened to me. I didn’t shout that day. I just cried,” she says. “But from the next time…”
From the next time, she starts to scream. First, at matches at the academy where she trains and later, in public. Thus emerged the PV Sindhu millions would watch this year at Rio, the one who became the first Indian woman to win a silver medal at the Olympics. She was magnetic, powerful and pervasive, and she dominated the court. She punched her fist in the air when she won points, she shouted, her attacking game wasn’t just dribs and drabs, but consistent across matches. Even when she lost to Spain’s Carolina Marin in the finals, while she had been outplayed, she had not been outclassed. And then she went and hugged Marin, her innate niceness breaking out.
For the past three years, her days have begun at 3.45am; she’s on the court at 4.30am. She travels 15 days a month for tournaments. Does the work ever feel crushing? “Badminton is my passion and I really enjoy playing. If you think of it as a burden, you can’t do well,” she says.
Polyester T-shirt, Rs 2,699, H&M. Satin coat, Rs 41,500, Sanchita. Acrylic wool trousers, Rs 8,500, Kanika Goyal. Sterling silver ring, Rs 8,500, Misho by Suhani Parekh.
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Cotton shirt, Rs 9,800, Bodice by Ruchika Sachdeva. Wool blend sweater, Rs 1,799, H&M. Brocade trousers, price on request, Rishta by Arjun Saluja. Satin and leather sandals, Rs 48,734, Paula Cademartori.
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Photographs: Bikramjit Bose. Styling: Malini Banerji. Hair And Make-Up: Sachin Dakoji. Production: Parul Menezes. Assisted By: Devika Wahal, Mahi Grover (Styling). Location Courtesy: Hyatt Hyderabad Gachibowli.