Who is PV Sindhu? India’s badminton star who made history with silver at Rio Olympics

In 2017, Sindhu rose to a career high of no 2 in the world rankings following her title triumph at the India Open

In 2016 PV Sindhu became the first Indian woman to win an Olympic silver medal

Arguably the most prolific Indian badminton star of the 21st century, Pusarla Venkata Sindhu (widely known as PV Sindhu) became a household name in 2016 when she won a silver medal at the Rio Olympics, the first Indian woman ever to do so in any discipline.

Sindhu is now also the only remaining hope for India to get a medal in Tokyo in badminton, a sport that is hugely popular across the country. She has been barely tested so far and eased her way into the round of 16 in the women’s singles on Wednesday after beating Cheung Ngan Yi of Hong Kong in her final Group match.

This time around, Sindhu has admitted to feeling the weight of national expectation. Speaking earlier this month, she told reporters things were different in Rio. “Back then in 2016, it was a different atmosphere,” she said. “I didn’t know anything about the feel of competing at the Olympics. Now, responsibilities are a lot more but in Tokyo, I just want to go out there and give my 100 per cent. There will be expectations, yes, but I have to focus on my game,” she said.

While Sindhu maintains her humility about her journey, the 26-year-old defending world champion is considered a veteran since her success five years ago.

A towering sports figure in India, the ace shuttler came to the international limelight first in 2012, when at the age of just 17, she broke into the top 20 of the Badminton World Federation (BWF) world rankings, three years after she made her international debut.

Silver medalist India's Pusarla V Sindhu celebrates on the podium following the women's singles Gold Medal badminton match at the Riocentro stadium in Rio de Janeiro on 19 August 2016, for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games

Born to national-level volleyball players PV Ramana and P Vijaya, sports was always coursing through her veins. Her father was a part of the Indian volleyball team that won the bronze in the 1986 Seoul Asian games. In 2000, he was awarded the coveted Arjuna Award, for his contribution to sports in the country.

Sindhu began playing badminton from the age of eight after being inspired by the success of Pullela Gopichand in the 2001 All England Open Badminton Championship. She soon joined his Badminton academy, only to be trained by her early childhood inspiration through to her Rio Olympics silver success.

Gopichand, who has been largely credited for her fitness, shared her daily routine in a 2016 interview with Hindustan Times. “Her daily schedule consists of three sessions, with the first one beginning at 4am. It continues till 6.30 or 7am. We can go through as many as a thousand shuttles per session,” he said. “We come back at about eight for another couple of hours of group session. Then it’s back again around 11am for an hour and a half. In the evening she has a gym and court session or a gym and running session.”

Indian badminton player and Olympic silver medalist PV Sindhu (R) and her coach P Gopichand take part in a parade after arriving home from the Rio Olympics in Hyderabad on 22 August 2016

Her success at the Rio Olympics may be the most remembered highlight of her career so far, but Sindhu has gone on to achieve a number of other accolades since.

In 2018, she beat Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara in the BWF World Tour Finals. In 2017, she rose to a career-high of no 2 in the world rankings following her title triumph at the India Open, where she beat Olympic champion Carolina Marin. She again equalled her best world rank in September of the same year after winning the title at the Korea Open Superseries.

With her earning of $8.5m, she tied in 13th position on the Forbes list of highest-paid female athletes in 2019.

But the Indian badminton star had a rather tepid start this year, playing after a long break in 2020. She was ousted in the first round and quarters of the first two Super 1000 events in Thailand in January and was eliminated from the race for the knockouts at the World Tour Finals.

She did make it to the finals of the Swiss Open, but there suffered a straight-games defeat against Marin. She later suffered a frustrating loss to Thailand’s Pornpawee Chochuwong in the semi-finals of All England Open.

Her current coach Park Tae-sang feels that her weak defence was the reason behind the slip in her performances earlier this year, and that a pandemic-induced break has helped her focus on the problem area.

“Sindhu’s defence is weak compared to her attack. So I have been focussing on her defence training before the Olympics,” Park, who has been training Sindhu since 2019, told the Press Trust of India. The improvement in her performance at the Swiss Open and All England Open were proof that she has improved her defence and endurance, said the coach.

Sindhu was also grateful for this period as it helped her focus on her training. “I think the [break during] pandemic was very useful because I got to learn more and focus more on my technique and skills so I would say definitely it has [helped].”

With defending Olympic champion Marin pulling out of the Games in Tokyo due to injury, India may have its best chance yet to go for badminton gold at the Olympics this year.

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