At 10-10 in the third game of their semi-final, at the China Open on Sunday, PV Sindhu and Ji Hyun Sung gave it their all in a nerve-wracking rally. Though eventually, it was the South Korean who won the point it was the moment that the match momentum underwent a total shift, favouring Sindhu over Sung. It was as if losing that point fuelled Sindhu’s determination to get the win that she consequentially did. In that semi-final, and on Sunday, in the final against Sun Yu for her maiden Super Series Premier title.

In a way, winning the China Open has cemented her place as one of the top shuttlers quite securely, perhaps a share more than her silver medal laurel at the Rio Olympics, a few months before. It feels so because, while a huge achievement in itself, Sindhu’s effort in the Games caught everyone off-guard before her success swept across the country overwhelmingly.

A slump after glory

Two back-to-back second round losses at the Denmark and French Opens prompted the question about whether her career had entered into a lull, plateauing after experiencing an emotional high at the Olympics. The loss at the Denmark Open was pointedly upsetting since she had been the finalist in the event last year, in what had been a career-first appearance in a Super Series final.

In her post-match speech, Sindhu made a reference to this aspect, commenting, “It has been a dream for a long time to win a Super Series. After the Olympics, everyone was asking me, ‘What’s next?’ It was important for me to get a Super Series title. [My] life changed a lot after the Olympics. People thought I will take a long time to get back. But I worked hard. This is my first Super Series title and I am very happy.”

Winning a medal at the Olympics influences athletes’ journeys in their respective sporting field massively. But the athletes themselves are left short-changed, as seemingly only their Olympic accomplishment is brought into sharpened focus even as other wins are sidestepped and blurred. In India, where the Olympic medals’ tally has constantly been in paucity – and severely disproportionate – to the athletes’ contingent sent to each edition of the tournament, the aspect manifests itself quite harshly. At times, sportspersons in individual sporting disciplines have to bear a deeper brunt than their counterparts in team-based domains.

Sindhu’s sojourn in Rio has evoked similar emotions. To such an extent, that in these past few months, it is been almost forgotten that she is only 21 with an aptitude for markedly more greatness than her present stature. Now that she has got the millstone from around her neck regarding the course of her career, the Hyderabad native can look ahead and carry on as she and her coach must have intended, all along.

Rewriting history in Fuzhou

In that, it is also appropriate that she took control of the chronicling of her career back, at the China Open where India has had a couple of notable acclaims in the recent past. In 2014, after winning the event against Lin Dan, Srikanth Kidambi became the first Indian men’s badminton player to win the Super Series Premier title. The same year, the tournament witnessed Saina Nehwal become the first Indian woman to win the Super Series Premier plaque. Sindhu’s participation in the final on Sunday also had one more resounding connotation. That an Indian woman, one other than Nehwal, was featuring in the event finale, for the third successive year.

The senior player’s name did come up and Sindhu chose to correlate her feat with that of Nehwal’s by stating, “I did what Saina (Nehwal) did in 2014 and I am very happy.”

There is only acknowledgement of what the 26-year-old fellow Hyderabadi has done as a precedent, but for certain probing eyes, this could well be the gauntlet of comparisons thrown before the two players, despite neither interested or concerned in being compared to the other.

In Sindhu’s win, there is another lesson to be learnt. That irrespective of the similarity of triumphing in Fuzhou, Nehwal and Sindhu need to be regarded singularly rather than the youngster being likened to her experienced peer. PV Sindhu’s path in the Indian badminton context is different – though no less vitalising than the one Nehwal took before her – helping to add depth to the nation’s overall representation in the sport’s field.