PV Sindhu captured the imagination and hearts of India even as she went down to the superior speed and court craft of World No. 1 Carolina Marin of Spain in the badminton final of the Rio Games on Friday.
The 19-21 21-12 21-15 verdict came in 83 minutes in which India stood still to watch a warrior of a woman showcase what it takes to get Olympic silver, the first by an Indian woman in the Games.
Sindhu, the World No. 10 and a surprise finalist, fell to the ground after match point, resting her head on her knees for a while before slowly walking away to hug her beaming rival. Minutes later on the podium, the 21-year-old shuttler, the youngest Indian to win in the Olympics, held up her medal and kissed it with a broad smile.
“I ended up with silver medal but am really happy,” said Sindhu moments after the game.
Marin’s plan was to attack and she did. Sindhu initially looked shaky but quickly pulled herself into the game. If Sindhu was dominant in the semis against Nozomi Okuhara of Japan, who won bronze, roles had reversed against the Spaniard. Marin played Sindhu, trying to tire her.
A deep return would be followed by a subtle drop shot, setting up a perfect attacking opportunity. Sindhu was playing catch up till the score read 19-16 in Marin’s favour. Two unforced errors at that juncture allowed Sindhu to come back and she made most of the opportunity. She won five successive points to win the first game 21-19, leaving Marin shrugging her shoulders.
Her deep placement on Marin’s backhand on game point was top notch. The loss of the first game had the twice defending world champion changing tactics from the start in the second. She literally decimated Sindhu’s game plan.
Running away with 5-1 lead, Marin put the Indian on the back foot, forcing her to err. Her drops displayed magnificent touch, some leaving Sindhu flailing. Her smashes, hovering in the vicinity of 330 km/hour, were penetrative. The only time Sindhu led in the match was when she nosed ahead to take the first game. Beyond that, it was all Marin.
Guttural screams from both sides of the net were the norm in this high-intensity slug fest. It wasn’t pretty, it was a street fight.
The Spaniard indulged in gamesmanship many a time; she would look to delay the moment Sindhu seemed to be getting her momentum. The umpire called her to the chair repeatedly to warn her and Marin nodded her head in acceptance. The moment another opportunity rose, she would take it to disrupt the Indian’s flow.
The gold medal boiled down to the decider. But by then Marin looked a different player, body language completely dominant. She took a quick 9-4 lead before Sindhu tried to claw back. A good smash at the top of the net saw Sindhu level scores at 10 and one could imagine the match turning gold.
But then Sindhu’s unforced errors piled up even as she began to make more unforced errors. Marin’s delaying tactics seemed to have thrown her off. Leading 17-14, Marin showed no nerves. A perfect drop set up match point at 20-14. Though Sindhu saved one, Marin was too good to lose six points. As Sindhu’s return found the net, Marin fell on the court screaming in joy. In fact, both collapsed on court in exhaustion of the gruelling effort.