Exclusive: PV Sindhu on what it takes to be the golden girl of badminton
“Words can’t express my feelings about yesterday’s win at the World Championship. Finally, the wait has ended”— Pusarla Venkata Sindhu wrote on her Instagram page, earlier last week, a few hours after winning gold at the Badminton World Federation (BWF) World Championships 2019 in Basel, Switzerland.
The wait has indeed ended and Sindhu has created history by becoming the first Indian to win the championship. A gift to her mother, bringing home the title on her birthday, and for the country and fans, who poured in their love and applause — right from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Shah Rukh Khan to Sachin Tendulkar.
Born to volleyball players— her father, PV Ramana is an Arjuna awardee — Sindhu’s foray into sports wasn’t unexpected. Her sister, PV Divya, is a national-level handball player as well. Trained under Chief National Coach Pullela Gopichand, Sindhu turned heads with her international debut — a bronze medal at the 2009 Sub-Junior Asian Badminton Championships in Colombo, Sri Lanka. What followed was a steep rise — winning some and losing some. In a chat, she recollects that one of her career’s biggest achievements was beating London 2012 Olympics gold medalist, China’s Li Xuerui, at the Super Series Tournament. “It was my first major win. Li Xuerui was already an established player and had just won gold at the Olympics. That match will always remain my most memorable one. It was very satisfying and of course, gave me a push at the beginning of my professional career,” says the Padma Shri awardee, during a telephonic conversation with us, a couple of days after her big win.
In the one-sided finals last week, the champion scored powerful smashes effortlessly to defeat Japanese player Nozomi Okuhara in just 38 minutes — two years after her 110-minute loss to the same player in the same BWF event. With two consecutive wins (Basel and Guangzhou in December last year), she has become an example of an athlete with a tight grip on her career and image, putting all doubts over her ability to jump the final hurdle to rest. This certainly calls for a celebration! “The match ended in the evening. So I went out for a small dinner that night with my team. Usually, I have ice cream but my sore throat didn’t cooperate this time. The next day, I left to India and it’s been quite hectic since then,” she shares.
Even after the achievement, the Hyderabad-born shuttler will not be flying off on a vacation to celebrate the win or at least take a few weeks off. Instead, she will be back on the court, prepping for the Olympic qualifiers — her second time at the international sports event. There is no sign of regret, though. “There’s nothing like being on the court and playing badminton. I’m already looking forward to the upcoming practice sessions,” she says. We’re convinced that it is this determination and love for her game that has brought her so far, making her the ‘golden girl of badminton’.
On returning to India, Sindhu flew directly to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi, before making her way to her hometown. She also addressed media and fans in Hyderabad, who received her with a lot of love and applause. For Sindhu, however, none of it is tiring. “The amount of love and appreciation I have received right from the Prime Minister to the fans at the airport... it makes me feel blessed and proud,” she admits.
Bond beyond the court
Even during our conversation with the champion, we notice that she is rather calm and quieter—unlike the aggressive, focused and competitive player that we see her as, on the court. When we mention it, she laughs it off, saying that though the atmosphere on the court can get quite stressful, she tries to keep it cool. It’s the same principle she lives by when it’s about her relationship with opponents as well — and her Instagram is proof. The ace player often takes to her favourite social media platform to share pictures with other international players including China’s Wang Yihan and Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon. Spanish player, Carolina Marin, who defeated Sindhu at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Brazil, shares a great bond with her, often commenting on Sindhu’s pictures. “When you’re playing against each other during a tournament, there is a rivalry. That’s inevitable. But it ends there. Once the match is done, we catch up sometimes,” shares the 24-year-old.
Since life has been about sports and adventure for Sindhu, fitness is, needless to say, the top priority for her. For years, the World No 5 (in the BWF world ranking, at the time of our interaction with her) has been practising a number of exercises — lower and upper body workouts, lunges, overhead press, and cardio — starting as early as four in the morning.
This time around, much ahead of the D-day, she trained with Suchitra Badminton Academy in Hyderabad — for a result as good as gold. A video of her intensive workout regimen is doing the rounds online — giving everyone major fitness goals. Her training sessions last as long as six hours a day sometimes, she confesses, “For a tournament like World Championships, the workout needs to be planned well in advance. It’s usually a mix of weights and exercises that help with my speed, agility, and endurance. I swear by whatever workouts I’m prescribed — there is no escape.” She also emphasises that it’s important to find a balance and not go overboard with a strict regimen, especially for beginners.
Apart from being one of the country’s best athletes, Sindhu has become a social media star too! With more than one million followers on Instagram, this Telugu girl is quite an influencer. From sharing adorable pictures with her nephew to keeping fans posted with updates, she has had our attention with meaningful quotes and quirky hashtags. She’s not the kind to shy away from talking about a defeat either. “Social media is the best way of being in touch with your well-wishers. There are people who want to see where you’re going and what you think about a particular match. I believe it’s healthy to maintain this relationship with my followers. It’s a way of giving back the love I get. Also, it’s a stressbuster,” says the young achiever, adding that she checks her feed a few hours before the match too.
In the six appearances that Sindhu has made at the BWF World Championships, she won two silver and two bronze medals earlier. She also had a second-place finish in the 2016 Olympic Games, which brought in comments about settling with silver. However, Sindhu has her own way of dealing with it. Talking about her near-misses at a few tournaments, she clarifies, “People have said things like ‘final phobia’ because I went to the finals but couldn’t make it in a couple of matches. I’ve answered with my racquet and of course, the gold.”
Sindhu’s fashion game is quite on point, which we notice thanks to her Instagram updates. She goes on to admit that she is quite the shopaholic. “I enjoy buying new clothes and accessories. But styling is all about my mood.” Considering it’s quite rare for this busy bee to have free time, she allows her stylist for the day to put together the best outfit based on her inputs. “If I’m not playing, I’m mostly attending events and shoots. So my outfit for the day depends on where I’m headed to,” she confesses.
Plate it right
If the question is ever about rice or roti, Sindhu confesses that she is certainly going with the former. She gives us a sneak peek into her diet: “I start with milk and a South Indian breakfast — mostly idli or dosa. My lunch has to be chicken or mutton with rice and veggies. Dinner is almost similar to the other meal, but I try having fish or kheema and some curd.”
‘Deepika suits my biopic’
Apart from her ardent love for sports and fashion, Sindhu also enjoys watching films. We ask her what her day is like when she’s not on the court, and she says, “On a day off, I like to spend time with my loved ones, and maybe catch up on the films I’ve missed watching.” Our conversation moved towards the news about her biopic being made by actor Sonu Sood. “Sonu (Sood) and I have spoken about it. But nothing has been confirmed yet,” she says. So who does she think is best suited to play her role? “Deepika Padukone,” she says with excitement, and we’re not surprised. Sindhu and Deepika are good friends and have spent time together earlier. The latter’s dad is also a former badminton player, Prakash Padukone. “She’s an extremely sweet person. It’s always great meeting her,” Sindhu shares.