PV Sindhu’s 2016: 5 am Practice Sessions to a Historic Rio Silver 

This was a year when PV Sindhu cemented her place as a dominant force on the world stage.

4 min read
(Photo: <b>The Quint</b>)

2016 turned out to be a watershed year for PV Sindhu and in turn Indian badminton. At just 21, the young girl from Hyderabad made history as the first Indian to win a silver medal at the Olympics and also her first super series win within three months.

While India’s other badminton star Saina Nehwal struggled with injuries around the year, Sindhu reached the upper echelons of the sport. In world rankings, she jumped from world number 12 to a career-best number six this year and won Badminton World Federation’s Most Improved Player of of the Year Award .

Here’s how PV Sindhu’s 2016 went.

Getting There, But Not Quite?

(Photo: <b>The Quint</b>/Rahul Gupta)
(Photo: The Quint/Rahul Gupta)

Sindhu qualified just three months before the Olympics but her trainers had been so sure she’d make the cut that they started prepping her a year in advance (That’s what it takes to be an Olympic medallist). She travelled 30 miles to reach training at 5 am everyday, and trained for seven hours straight with tiny 15 minute snack intervals.

The Indian badminton player made the perfect start to the season after bagging the Malaysia Masters Grand Prix Gold title on 24 January. In her next major tournament in February, Sindhu was outclassed by fellow Indian Ruthvika Shivani Gadde in the women’s singles final of the South Asian Games.

Subsequently two quarterfinal defeats in the India Open (21-15, 15-21, 15-21) and Malaysia Open (7-21 8-21), and a second round defeat in the Badminton Asia Championship in the run-up to the Games made Sindhu a hopeful but not a serious contender for the gold at Rio.


Sindhu's Rio Journey

Entering Rio as the ninth seed with the meek expectation that she’d cross the qualifiers, PV Sindhu thrashed Laura Sarosi of Hungary 21-8, 21-9 in her opening women’s singles match.

While India’s big medal hopeful Saina Nehwal exited the singles tournament in the group stage, Sindhu powered on to the quarters with her 19-21 21-15 21-17 win against Canada’s Michelle Li and 21-13, 21-15 win against world number 8 Tai Tzu-ying of Chinese Taipei.

There was no stopping Sindhu after that. In a huge upset in the women’s singles draw, Sindhu beat her toughest challenger, London Games silver medalist and world number 2, Yihan Wang of China 22-20, 21-19 to make her way into the semis. With her 51-minute semifinal victory against Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara by a 21-19, 21-10 scoreline, Sindhu had already set two big records.

Assured of a medal, the 21-year-old faced world number 1 Carolina Marin in the Rio Olympics’ women’s singles badminton finale. Eight gruelling days after she started her first Olympic campaign, the nation saw Sindhu win a historic silver medal (and not lose the gold).

(Photo: <b>The Quint</b>/Rahul Gupta)
(Photo: The Quint/Rahul Gupta)

At the forefront of Sindhu’s journey to Rio was her coach Pullela Gopichand, who also became the only Indian coach to produce two Olympic medallists . In an interview after the finale, the ecstatic coach promised to let Sindhu use her phone and eat ice-cream after her historic win.


CRPF Commander to Fashionista

PV Sindhu came back home from Rio to a hero’s welcome. For her outstanding performance at the prestigious games, the Telangana government announced Rs 5 crore cash reward and a 1,000 square yard housing site near the Pullela Gopichand Badminton Academy in Gachibowli.

With fellow Rio athletes Sakshi Malik and Dipa Karmakar, she was conferred the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award, the highest sporting honour in the country. The country’s largest paramilitary force CRPF also appointed her as its brand ambassador and bestowed the honorary rank of Commander on the ace badminton player.

Three state governments along with All India Football Federation also announced crash prizes which collectively amounted to 10.05 crore for the silver medallist. Advertisement deals started pouring in for the girl who had become a household name around the country. The 21-year-old signed a three-year deal reportedly worth Rs 50 crore with sports management company Baseline.

But that was not all, we also got to see the badminton star in an all new avatar. Not only was she seen in some stunning outfits at public functions, Sindhu looked smashing in various photo shoots for magazines.


‘PV Sindhu’ Etched in History Books

Besides the Olympic feat, Sindhu also etched her name in history books, becoming only the third Indian to win the China Open, her maiden Super Series Premier title. Aiming for her second successive Super Series title, Sindhu lost the Hong Kong Open finale 15-21, 17-21 to Chinese Taipei's Tai Tzu Ying in a 41-minute women's singles clash.

Subsequently, Sindhu qualified for her first Dubai Super Series Final, where only the world's top eight players make the cut. In her final tournament of 2016, Sindhu avenged her heart-breaking loss at the Rio Games to two-time World Champion Carolina Marin with a thrilling straight-game (21-17, 21-13) victory in a do-or-die women's singles Group B contest.

Sindhu's brilliant run at the tournament however came to an end after she suffered a narrow 15-21, 21-18, 15-21 defeat against World number five Korean Sung Ji-Hyun in the semis.

Wins and defeats, prizes and rewards – 2016 was a year when PV Sindhu cemented her place as a dominant force on the world stage.

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