PV Sindhu, one of India's biggest hopes at the Tokyo Olympics, will look to upgrade her medal in Tokyo, having clinched the silver in previous Games in Rio. The star Indian shuttler has been drawn with Hong Kong's Cheung Ngan Yi (ranked 34th) and Israel's Ksenia Polikarpova (ranked 58th) in Group J of the women's singles event.
The Hyderabad stalwart has many firsts to her name. First Indian woman to win a silver medal at the Olympics, first Indian to win the Badminton World Championships, and first Indian to win the BWF World Tour Finals.
Since clinching a bronze medal at the World Championships in 2013, the 26-year-old has jumped, screamed, fist-pumped and smashed her way into the hearts of badminton followers.
The sixth-seeded shuttler also interacted with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday. PM Modi asked about her liking for ice cream and restrictions involving her diet.
Sindhu had revealed in an interview that coach Pullela Gopichand took away her phone and prohibited her from eating ice cream during the Rio 2016 Olympics. Modi vowed to have ice cream with Sindhu once she comes back from her Tokyo stint. "We had to control a little as I am preparing for the Olympics. I don’t eat ice cream as much due to competition," Sindhu said.
PM Modi in a lighter vein said that he will try to eat ice cream with her after she comes back from Tokyo. "If I meet you after the Olympics, I'll eat ice cream with you," Modi said.
The daughter of former volleyball players, PV Ramana and Vijaya, Sindhu gets her competitive streak from her parents. Under the watchful eyes of Pullela Gopichand and now Park Tae Sang, Sindhu has gone from strength to strength in her game.
The reigning World Champion, who turned 26 on Monday, is one of the favourites to win the gold medal in Tokyo. With a 10-6 record this year and no title since the World Championships in Basel, Sindhu has her task cut out. Hopes increased after the 2016 Olympics champion Carolina Marin of Spain withdrew due to surgery on a torn ACL and both meniscus on the left knee.
However, despite Marin's absence, the path to gold at Tokyo, in Sindhu's second appearance at the Olympics, won't be simple.
In the draw for women's singles, Sindhu is in Group J alongside Hong Kong's Cheung Nyan Yi and Russian-born Israeli Ksenia Polikarpova. If the draw plays to the script, Sindhu may face Denmark's Mia Blichfeldt in the round of 16 and potentially run into Japan's Akane Yamaguchi in the quarter-finals.
The World no. 7 had got the better of a tricky Blichfeldt in the semi-finals of the Swiss Open in March after the Dane sent her into a first-round loss at Thailand Open in January. Sindhu had beaten an energetic Yamaguchi later in March in a thrilling quarter-final at the All-England Championships.
Other challenges include the deceptive Taiwanese Tai Tzu Ying, headstrong Chinese pair of Chen Yufei and leftie He Bingjiao, Japanese energy drainer Nozomi Okuhara, Korean teenage giant-killer An Se Young, and balletic Thai Ratchanok Intanon.
Sindhu knows expectations are from her. But she prefers to counter it by being calm and composed. "You have to be composed and stay away from any sort of distractions to realize your goal. And obviously, my target is to come back with a gold," said Sindhu at a TEDx event in June.
As the brightest medal hopeful for India in Tokyo, Sindhu is fully aware of what is expected of her. If she goes one step further, it will elevate her status as one of the greatest shuttlers India has ever produced.
(With IANS Inputs)