Starting from 5.30 pm IST on Sunday, for the next 38 minutes, we witnessed extraordinary scenes in Basel at the 25th edition of the BWF Badminton World Championships.
Extraordinary, because PV Sindhu made Nozomi Okuhara look like a rookie. Extraordinary, because PV Sindhu dropped just 14 points in the entire final against a former World Champion. Extraordinary, because Rio Olympic silver medallist PV Sindhu became World Champion PV Sindhu.
But the moment Okuhara made one final error, Sindhu just held her arms against her face for a few seconds and went about hugging her coaches, thanking the referees and shaking hands with her fierce rival — all with a smile on her face and nothing much else. She thanked her coaches, the fans and dedicated the gold to her mother who was celebrating her birthday. You know how they say in sport that the scoreline sometimes does not tell you the full story of a match? This was not one of those occasions. Sindhu had just blown Okuhara away.
After an extraordinary display of power and dominance, however, Sindhu’s immediate celebrations were decidedly ordinary.
Perhaps the nature of the win made the crowning moment a bit anti-climactic. Perhaps she was not sure of what she had managed to achieve, just yet. Perhaps the feelings were just sinking.
Or perhaps she was steeled by emotions from the other end of the spectrum for the last couple of years.
Only Sindhu can answer that, as to what was going through her mind at those historic moments.
The moment she stood in silence, facing the tri-colour and listening to Jana Gana Mana being played at St. Jakobshalle Arena, the tears started rolling out. The realisation that she was the first ever Indian to be the best badminton player in the world hit her and she could not hold it back.
It was six years after she stood on the podium wearing bronze as a teenager in Guangzhou.
It was three years after she stood on the podium wearing silver as a 21-year-old in Rio.
It was two years after she just about managed to pick herself up in the aftermath of an 110-minute epic in Glasgow that did not deserve a loser.
It was a year after she was second best by a distance against a rampant Carolina Marin.
And here she was, on August 25, 2019, standing tall at the top of the podium.
This did not just happen, by chance. There is nothing happenstance about Sindhu’s meteoric rise since that night in Guangzhou. It is the result of hours of hard work. It is the result of shedding her shy nature and transforming herself into a roaring machine on a badminton court, borne out of time spent just practising yelling because her coach wanted her to get those emotions out of her.
It is the result of being young and brave. It is the result of having conviction in her methods, while at the same time being open to making tweaks to her game that help her improve. It is the result of trying hard, failing, trying hard again, failing better... and then triumphing at the end. It is the result of being at peace with the mighty expectations from her.
“Of course responsibilities are always there especially after Rio, like every time you go out on the court you have to win gold,” Sindhu told reporters after her win. “After a few months, after a year.. I thought, what should I do for it? When you think about others, and trying to win it for them... back then, I thought, I have to play for myself, give my best.”
The thing about being an athlete, and especially one as special as Sindhu, is that the expectations won’t ever decrease. The more they win, the more they will be expected to repeat that feat. The more they don’t meet those lofty expectations, the more they will be questioned.
Believe it or not, she was actually asked if she thought her path to the gold medal was “made easy” this time because there was no Carolina Marin in the fray and No 1 seed Akane Yamaguchi was knocked out earlier. This, after she defeated the recent world No 1 and, arguably the best player of this era, Tai Tzu Ying in the quarter-final. This, after dismantling the form player of 2019 without a doubt, Chen Yufei, in the semi-final. This, after registering a scarcely believable scoreline in the final against 2017 world champion Okuhara in the final.
But you know what, Sindhu will not care. She ripped to shreds all the questions over her winning mentality. She is the gold medallist on merit. She is the World Champion. She, not for the first time in her career, went where no other Indian shuttler has gone before.
It was inevitable, because she willed it to be.
And she did it her way. She did it for herself.