In London Olympics 2012 Saina Nehwal became the first Indian player to clinch an Olympics medal in badminton. The colour of the medal changed from bronze to silver four years later in Rio Olympics 2016 when Pusarla Venkata Sindhu came up with a stunning performance.
This was just the beginning for the Rio Olympics silver medallist who played her maiden Olympics as in the next year she bagged a silver medal at the 2017 World Championship and repeated a similar performance in the 2018 World Championship.
A year later she went on to make another history by becoming the first Indian shuttler in the history to become a World Champion in 2019 taking her world championship medals tally to 5 medals.
The Hyderabadi shuttler has once again gone to Olympics with the expectation of 1.3 billion people. She is India's best bet to complete a hattrick of medals in the Tokyo Olympics and the expectation is to go one step further and win a gold medal.
A person who has been her guiding force and mentor both on and off the court is her father Mr. PV Ramana. Watching her game from close quarters for the last 18 years and especially in the last few months before Tokyo Olympics, he feels that she has improved immensely both game and fitness-wise.
"Of course she has taken badminton to a next level at the Olympics, the only Indian girl to win a world championship and silver at the Olympics. Of course, we are really excited as a sportsperson."
"I know how and what is expected inside out and I am very happy and even this time I am very much convinced the way she worked out in the last 10-15 days was the kind of game she has been playing and she was moving really swiftly on the court. I am confident if she really exhibits this performance in the Olympics then we can definitely expect a medal from her," said PV Sindhu's father Mr.PV Ramana while talking exclusively to The Bridge.
Four Indian badminton players including PV Sindhu, B Sai Praneeth, Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy will compete in Tokyo Olympics. The reigning world champion in women singles is eyeing to become an Olympic champion and she has also reduced her weight in order to move faster and quicker on the court during the matches.
"She has really worked hard and reduced weight from 68.5 to 65.5 Kg. She has come to good shape and you know for the sportspersons everything depends on the day's particular performance. We can't take it so easily. All the opponents also got the same time, the same lockdown to work hard and prepare. They might have also improved but I am glad that Sindhu has also improved her defence as well as some of the strokes that I have seen her during practice sessions. If she exhibits plays in those particular matches I think I will be the happiest person." explained PV Sindhu's father PV Ramana.
The World No. 7 Sindhu has been placed in Group J alongside World No. 34 Hong Kong's Cheung Ngan Yi and World No. 58 Ksenia Polikarpova of Israel in the women's singles.
Sindhu has an all-win record against her group stage opponents Ngan Yi and Polikarpova in the five and two encounters played so far against them respectively. Sindhu is likely to square off against local girl and current world championship bronze medallist Akane Yamaguchi in the quarter-final.
"No crowd but when you will be entering the court then you will be entering with the same spirit. Nobody will play to lose and they will be working very hard and normally if you see a Japanese contingent of the country's players. Obviously, the country which is hosting the Olympics will definitely work out 5 to 10 percent more. The government will encourage more and they will be pushing all these athletes more and that way we can't take it easy against Akane Yamaguchi. Yamaguchi as it is she is a good player and now being a host country she might have really worked hard." told PV Ramana to The Bridge.
Not only local girl Akane Yamaguchi but the 2016 Rio Olympics silver medallist will face tough challenges from world no.1 Tai Tzu-Ying from Chinese Taipei as she is likely going to meet her in the semi-final, and if she fails to make it then it could be former world champion from Thailand Ratchanok Intanon and if she reaches the final like last time then her opponent is likely going to be Chen Yufei of China.
But if you ask Sindhu's father then it could be a 19-year-old sensation from South Korea An-Se Young who can surprise everyone with her style of play.
"I believe An Se-Young of Korea may come. My prediction is that she will come good. Chen Yufei and An Se-Young have the same style of play both do not attack and both play wrist games. Chen Yufei, being senior, will play under pressure against An Se-Young because she has exhibited a lot during matches in Thailand. Having seen her personally a lot. Both of them don't make mistakes. An Se-Young's anticipation is very good and defence is also not bad. I generally analyze a lot and keep watching and tracking every player." said PV Ramana.
PV Sindhu has been training under new coach Park Tae Sang of South Korea and trainer Suchitra at the Gachibowli stadium.
According to Sindhu's father Mr. PV Ramana, the South Korean coach has improved her defence and added new strokes to her repertoire. World Champion Sindhu has been training at the Gachibowli indoor stadium in Hyderabad where conditions are similar to what she is going to get in Japan.
"The new coach has mostly concentrated on defence and some of the strokes. The body smashes and all she has improved defence and all. All these things he has taken care of and really appreciate SAI, Government of India, BAI and Government of Telangana also for sparing the stadium and she has shifted to that particular stadium to have particularly the feeling of the same stadium where you play big stadia in all the other super series and Olympics."
"The Government of Telangana was kind enough to allot the stadium with basic facilities in the last one month and that really would have helped out to control the people and all. She has taken the right decision. She was asking for this and she was telling the coach for the last three years not now but coaches have their own powers and their own ideas." explained PV Sindhu's father PV Ramana.
According to Sindhu's father, her decision to train separately at the Gachibowli Stadium did create a bit of stir but all those things did not disturb her and she kept her focus on preparation for the showpiece event. Without taking any name Sindhu's father took a jibe at those under whom her daughter was training earlier.
"I read an article in a leading newspaper that the stadium is not fit and all this rubbish. The so-called coach and some badminton player had given information to a leading newspaper. I don't treat them as a coach and player. I don't know for what reason they said, Sindhu will not get distracted, she is a mature player. Very unfortunate if you want to do something good for sports but trying to explain to the whole world that I am senior in this way will not work out. Doing all rubbish things will not work out. I am naming anybody." said PV Ramana to The Bridge.
All these things also happened because Sindhu's form took a freefall immediately after becoming the World Champion. In 2020-21, PV Sindhu played eight tournaments.
She lost in the semifinals of All-England in March and was no match for Olympic champion Carolina Marin in the Swiss Open final. With no title wins to show, Sindhu even suffered a first-round exit in Thailand Open in January 2021.
This string of poor performances raised concerns over her performance and fitness ahead of the showpiece event but her father does not seem to be too worried about it.
"A player goes through bad times as well as good times and I think bad times are now going away for Sindhu. During bad times you need to concentrate, be focused, and be injury-free. We need to continue that commitment and keep the interest in the game. This is where we have learned from coaches that if a player is not able to perform well then you should not give stupid reasons and you don't try to concentrate on that particular player."
"She has got age on her side. I have been observing Sindhu for the past 18 years and now I am telling you about the way she was playing in the last 10 days. Generally, I don't get that confidence or I just don't boost my daughter unnecessarily. I told her that you are playing the best strokes. You are really playing like a mature player just continue this go ahead. I have seen a drastic change in her where the coach has concentrated on her defensive strokes."
"Earlier if you hit in a player's body then it was a 100 percent point against Sindhu. They never used to give her an attacking chance; they used to attack on the body and wherever they used to get a chance. She was weak in defence and also on the body but now that has gone totally. Dribbles, cross-court smashes, picking up the length to pick the shuttle. Earlier she used to just push the shuttle but now she learnt how to place the shuttle at which level at which height all these things with the drift. So, all these are added advantages for Sindhu." told PV Ramana to The Bridge.
In the singles category, 42 players are divided into 14 groups with each group consisting of three players and the top player from each group will qualify for the knockout stage. All the knockout stage matches will be played back-to-back and at such crucial stage fitness plays a pivotal role for any shuttler.
"She has done a lot of speed work out in the last 10 days to improve her fitness. On 29, 30, 31 and 1st of July, we will have pre-quarters, quarters, semi-final and final respectively one after another. So, the best option is that she should play really good close matches in two games. That should be your attitude, focus and game plan." said PV Ramana.
PV Sindhu is known as a big tournament player winning two bronze, two silver and a gold medal in World Championship and a silver in her previous Olympic experience. Therefore, in Tokyo Olympics she is expected to finish on the podium as she begins her campaign against Ksenia Polikarpova of Israel on July 25.