“Since the 2019 World Championships, Sindhu hasn’t won a title. Even last year there were many tournaments where she reached the quarterfinal, semifinal or was runner up. There are not many high ranking players here but it doesn’t matter. I want her to win. I want her to participate in many tournaments and go there to win. Even winning the smallest tournament is important.”

In a Twitter space organised by Badminton Association of India during the India Open earlier this year, that is what coach Park Tae Sang said when he made a quick appearance to speak to fans and journalists present. The tournament was happening just a few weeks after the 2021 season came to a close with the World Championships in Huelva. Coming so soon after a major event, and a jam-packed end to the 2021 BWF World Tour season, many of the big stars decided to skip the Super 500 event in New Delhi. But for a few reasons, Sindhu did not. As coach Park said in the interaction, he wanted his ward to get the 2022 season off to a good start, win titles at home and put some points on the board. Essentially, build a winning habit.

Fast forward to July, and Sindhu has added one Super 500 title (Singapore Open 2022 on Sunday) to her two Super 300 titles (Syed Modi International and Swiss Open) earlier to go top of the BWF World Tour Race to Guangzhou for the season.

Why is this significant? In a rare on court interview after the final on Sunday, where she had to battle past Asian Champion Wang Zhi Yi, Sindhu’s choice of words were interesting. She hoped that it would help her go to the next level.

For starters, some context. The tournament win in Singapore in itself is not the toughest by any means. Like the India Open earlier this year, there were quite a few big names missing here as well. Sindhu started as the third seed but after the withdrawal of Chen Yufei (pre tournament) and Tai Tzu Ying (after one win), she was effectively the top seed for the week. More seeds fell by the wayside (with Ashmita Chaliha and Saina Nehwal playing their part in that).

But unlike the India Open, Sindhu navigated tough situations along the way. She was 17-19 down in the second game against Vietnam’s Thuy Nguyen in the second round, she had to come through hard-fought three-game matches against two talented Chinese shuttlers either side of a dominant win against Saena Kawakami. It was a rollercoaster of a tournament, and every time she was pushed into a corner she found a way to respond, a characteristic that came in handy against Wang in the final.

Even though the field wasn’t the strongest, the win is important for Sindhu because of the targets she and coach Park began this season with.

Sindhu’s career as a shuttler can only be described as extraordinary. It has been well established now but let’s just quickly recap: a whopping five medals at the World Championships so far (starting from a bronze in 2013 to gold in 2019), two medals at the Olympic Games, a season-finale title to go with finals appearances at Asian Games and Commonwealth Games. It is a staggering resume, and one that any shuttler would only dream of at the start of their careers.

But in that extraordinary resume, there were obvious and ordinary gaps. This is no comparison of skill levels or legacies, but Sindhu’s record among the greatest modern day shuttlers was a little bit of an outlier because she reserved her best invariably for the big events. Her titles on the regular tour were few and far between... even when she won gold in Basel, she defied the form-book as only she could as until then, her 2019 season was nothing to write home about.

Then came another Olympic medal in 2021, following which a rare early exit from the Huelva World Championships. So 2022 began with new targets: consistency on the tour, deep runs, and as coach Park put it, titles.

PV Sindhu in finals since 2016

Tournament Opponent in final Sindhu's result
Malaysia Masters 2016 Kirsty GILMOUR Winner
Olympic Games 2016 Carolina MARIN Runner-up
Victor China Open 2016 SUN Yu Winner
Hong Kong Open 2016 TAI Tzu Ying Runner-up
Syed Modi Memorial India Open 2017 Gregoria Mariska TUNJUNG Winner
India Open 2017 Carolina MARIN Winner
World Championships 2017 Nozomi OKUHARA Runner-up
Korea Open 2017 Nozomi OKUHARA Winner
Hong Kong Open 2017 TAI Tzu Ying Runner-up
Season Finals 2017 Akane YAMAGUCHI Runner-up
India Open 2018 Beiwen ZHANG Runner-up
CWG (Individual Event) 2018 Saina NEHWAL Runner-up
Thailand Open 2018 Nozomi OKUHARA Runner-up
World Championships 2018 Carolina MARIN Runner-up
Asian Games (Individual Event) 2018 TAI Tzu Ying Runner-up
Season Finals 2018 Nozomi OKUHARA Winner
Indonesia Open 2019 Akane YAMAGUCHI Runner-up
World Championships 2019 Nozomi OKUHARA Winner
Swiss Open 2021 Carolina MARIN Runner-up
Season Finals 2021 Se Young AN Runner-up
Syed Modi Memorial India Open 2022 Malvika BANSOD Winner
Swiss Open 2022 Busanan ONGBAMRUNGPHAN Winner
Courtesy: Badminton Statistics

PV Sindhu’s finals apart from major ones (Excluding Olympics, CWG, AG, Worlds, Season finales)

2016: Three finals

2017: Four finals

2018: Two finals

2019: One final

2021: Two finals 

2022 (as of July 2022): Three finals

“I have tried to tell Sindhu that it doesn’t matter which tournament she’s taking part in, but she needs to win so that she has the confidence to win. She needs to get that confidence back,” was what Park had said back in January.

While Syed Modi and Swiss Open gave her that winning feeling back, once the tour was back close to full strength, the luck of draw didn’t help her. A series of tournaments where she had to face either top 10 players in the opening round itself or eventually Tai Tzu Ying in the quarterfinals, meant that higher level of title eluded her. In between all those was a defeat against Ratchanok Intanon at Indonesia Masters where she looked like a shadow of her best version. Those few days in Jakarta weren’t easy for her.

“In the last couple of tournaments, there were hard-fought matches, and losing in the quarterfinals and semifinals was a bit upsetting but each match mattered and finally I could get this,” Sindhu said after her win in Singapore. “I am very happy because after a long time coming here to Singapore and winning this, means a lot to me. I have finally crossed that level, I have got the win now and I hope the same tempo continues for the rest of the tournaments.”

Winning, as they say, is a habit and in Sindhu’s glittering career that is a habit usually reserved for the biggest and grandest of stages. But, with her first tournament win since turning 27 (which she said was special in its own way), Sindhu is taking steps towards being consistent on the tour. It is the next level for her and for that, the first ever Super 500 title since the tournament format was introduced, is a good starting point.

Does her best season on BWF World Tour bode well for what’s to come? “I want to be more successful, of course,” Sindhu said as she looked ahead to the Commonwealth Games, where she would be seeking an elusive gold medal.

Sindhu’s finals and titles stats courtesy Badminton Statistics