Gold In Basel: P V Sindhu is World Champion

NEW DELHI :IN SWITZERLAND, a country obsessed with time, P V Sindhu raced to render the past redundant. In 38 minutes of savage hitting, unseen in women’s badminton, the Hyderabadi erased memories of all prior losses and became India’s first ever badminton World Champion.

It was 2.37 pm Swiss local time Sunday, 6.07 pm IST, when Sindhu wrapped up the final against familiar foe Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara 21-7, 21-7.

The national anthem rang out and the Tricolour went up — but not before a little impromptu “Happy Birthday” rendition went around St Jakobshalle in Basel, withSindhu dedicating her title to her mother P Vijaya, herself an accomplished volleyball player.

Minutes earlier, Sindhu’s smashes had struck and chimed like the precise rumbling of the big clocks, leaving no doubts about the power she exuded while stomping to her first gold medal after two bronzes and two silvers.

Pusarla V. Sindhu returns a shuttlecock to Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara during their women’s singles final match at the BWF Badminton World Championships in Basel, Switzerland. (AP)

The past she erased included a torrid 2017 when she lost the longest World Championship match to the same opponent, as well as a long string of losses listed out every time she fell short — Olympics, Asian Games, two Worlds finals, CWG and even the Nationals, all finals.

Finally, it needed the gold at the World Championships in her third attempt to underline the steel of those precious silvers, and place Sindhu in the pantheon of badminton’s all-time greats.

This medal puts her level with Chinese Zhang Ning for most number of podiums by a women’s singles player (5), highlighting her remarkable consistency since 2013 when she first began her run. The 24-year-old is yet to lose to a Chinese at the Worlds — she has played 7, won 7.

Pusarla V. Sindhu after winning her women’s singles final match against Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara at the BWF Badminton World Championships in Basel, Switzerland, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. (AP)

In an era when the game has become physically exacting, Sindhu had bided her time on the circuit, not pouncing on prize fights of week-in week-out, and instead ensuring India medalled at every single big event that globally mattered. At Basel over the last two days of semis and finals, she unveiled another sight — that of an Indian athlete in such dominant touch that opponents winced.

Sindhu’s gold is the best India has been in a mass sport with a long-established history. Women’s boxing, where Mary Kom has multiple world championships, is still in its infancy worldwide and women’s 400-hurdles was on its debut when P T Usha missed a medal at Los Angeles. Lifters and shooters have won world-level medals but not with this consistency over seasons

Neither the hockey gold-gluttons of yore, nor Abhinav Bindra or Sushil Kumar, or the cricketing World Cup champs or Grand Slam doubles winners will protest if Sindhu is now considered India’s greatest all-time athlete — male or female.

Yes, there is still an Olympic gold to be won. But Sindhu’s World Championship and Olympic silver medals over six seasons have encompassed wins over every single player of note — at a time when women’s singles is in the midst of its golden generation of talent.

In this World Championships, Sindhu’s quarters win over Tai Tzu Ying after dropping the opening set 21-12 was a turning point. That she thrashed Chinese Chen Yufei in the semis in 40 minutes, and took even less time to wrap up the one-sided finals against Okuhara.

For three straight days at the business end, Sindhu was smashing in the range of 340-360 kmph, multiple times. On Sunday, her first fumble of the day would come at the press conference after winning the title. “I’m very happy and I’ve waited for this victory and finally I’ve become a National champion,” she said. She then laughed heartily and said: “World champion, sorry, World champion.”