And, that is how history is made. Point by hard-earned point. Face-offs on a scuffed badminton court. Battle of wits, of bodies. India’s first Olympic silver in badminton is made in more steel than silver. Because, that is what P.V. Sindhu is made of. Coming back from behind to win the first battle, Sindhu set fire to the galleries. In the first game, her comeback from 6-11 to equalise the score with Spain’s Carolina Marin sent the crowd at Pavilion 4 of Rio Centro into a tizzy. The war was won by Marin, but Sindhu won the hearts.
The other occasion that saw the crowd going wild was when the game’s longest rally—52 strokes in 49 seconds—went in her favour. Marin punctuated her points with a keening wail. Banshee-like, if you may. Sindhu’s is a dignified fist pump and an intense, crisp monologue to herself.
Marin brought the wrath of the umpire on herself, many times. Australian Kelly Hoare was not pleased by her delaying tactics, and censured her many times. Hoare, on multiple occasions, turned down Marin’s appeal to change the shuttlecock. “I was not worried about the exchanges and interruptions,” said Sindhu. “It is a game, and these things are to be expected.”
The first game was Sindhu’s. It was cliff hanger badminton. Marin’s guile and experience did not stop Sindhu’s race from 17-19 to 18-19, 19-19 and 20-19. Then, a flick from Sindhu was mishandled by Marin. And, the No.10 had triumphed over the No 1. In the second game, Marin took control early and forced Sindhu into errors. Marin’s nine-point advantage weighed Sindhu down and the Spaniard closed with a booming smash. A Team GB athlete next to me quipped: “A little more power and she would have struck oil.”
The decisive third game went Marin’s way initially. But, Sindhu kept chipping away. 6-1 became 10-8 and on. At 18-14, it was clear that the Indian anthem would not be played. When the dust settled, Sindhu had lost 21-19, 12-21, 15-21. “It was her day,” Sindhu told the media. “I never expected to play so brilliantly and come so far. And, it feels really good to be the first female badminton player from India to get an Olympic silver.”
After the match, Marin collapsed to her knees, and it was Sindhu who went over and shook hands. The players hugged. And, before heading to hug coach Pullella Gopichand, Sindhu picked up Marin’s racquet from the ground, walked over to the Spaniard’s chair, placed it there and walked into history, leaving behind a tidy court and a battle well fought. We could use more Indians like her.