Prakash Padukone had won a bronze medal at the 1983 World Championships in Copenhagen. Since then, Indian badminton fans had to wait for 30 years after that to see another singles player reach the podium in the prestigious event.
When it happened in 2013, it was thanks to a 18-year-old: Pusarla Venkata Sindhu.
On August 9, 2013, the joy on Sindhu’s face and the relief on Pullela Gopichand’s was evident as the coach and his ward embraced each other at the Tianhe Indoor Stadium. Sindhu had beaten a higher-ranked player for the second day in a row to ensure India’s wait for a singles medal at the event will come to an end.
Coming into the World Championships in Guangzhou, all of India’s hopes were pinned on Saina Nehwal, of course. The trailblazer for Indian badminton was the third seed. She had won bronze at London 2012 to add yet another first to her resume. But her campaign would come to an end on the same day that Sindhu confirmed her podium finish.
“When I won my first world championship bronze nobody really knew me. It was a great feeling to beat Wang Yihan and Wang Shixian in back-to-back matches to win the bronze medal,” Sindhu recalled in Glasgow ahead of the 2017 edition when she went on to win silver.
A look at the draws before the tournament might have scared off any other teenager. Tenth seed Sindhu had to beat the defending champion in the round of 16 and then potentially face a former world No 1 in the quarter-final; both Chinese stars playing in front of their of home fans no less.
Indians who have won medals at badminton Worlds
|1983||Copenhagen||Prakash Padukone (bronze)|
|2011||London||Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponappa (bronze)|
|2013||Guangzhou||PV Sindhu (bronze)|
|2014||Copenhagen||PV Sindhu (bronze)|
|2015||Jakarta||Saina Nehwal (silver)|
|2017||Glasgow||PV Sindhu (silver)|
|2017||Glasgow||Saina Nehwal (bronze)|
|2018||Nanjing||PV Sindhu (silver)|
|2019||Basel||Sai Praneeth (bronze)|
|2019||Basel||PV Sindhu (gold)|
Sindhu vs Yihan
It was the first time Sindhu was playing the Chinese star in her own backyard, having lost to her in the Sudirman Cup, and not many would have given the then 18-year-old a chance to upset the London Olympics silver medallist. She, however, always maintained the upper hand in the 54-minute encounter and showed the maturity required to be a champion when Yihan Wang managed to save three match points in the second game. Sindhu had to then save a game point herself before closing out a straight-games victory.
Sindhu vs Shixian
It was yet another straight games victory for the Indian as she dominated her second meeting against the former world No 1 Shixian with a flurry of smashes, including 19 clear winners. Just like the match against Yihan, Sindhu grabbed the initiative from the opening point and this time only needed two match points to close out the match. It was her second consecutive win against Shixian in 2013. And once again, Sindhu defied expectations. It is worth remembering that this was the teenager’s first appearance at the World Championships.
A 10-21, 13-21 loss to eventual champion Ratchanok Inthanon of Thailand in the semi-final meant Sindhu’s debut at the big stage finished with a famous bronze medal.
“I am a bit upset after the loss but I am happy to win the bronze. It was my first World Championship and it is a big victory for me,” Sindhu had said in 2013.
“Actually the World Championship draw was really tough for me because all the good players were there and I knew I had to play really well. I had to play Wang Yihan and Shixian Wang, but I didn’t think that I will go on to lose. I was coming from an injury and missed two tournaments, so I just wanted to give my best, my 100%,” she added.
The teenager had become the first women’s singles shuttler from India to get a medal at the mega-event. And following on from Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa’s equally historic doubles bronze in 2011, it also meant Indian badminton witnessed the beginning of a streak that would see them win at least one medal in every edition since.
Her rise to prominence in Guangzhou may have come as a surprise to some Indian sports fans but it did not happen overnight. She had already built up a reputation in India as a rising shuttler and her giant-killing skills were established in 2012.
But even the most staunch believers of her capability could not have foreseen Sindhu’s run at the World Championships since then: a bronze in 2014 was followed by two silver medals in 2017, 2018 and then the historic gold in 2019. In addition, ever since Sindhu defeated Wang Yihan in the round of 16 in Guangzhou, she has been unbeaten against Chinese shuttlers at the World Championships as of 2019.
Sindhu’s record against Chinese shuttlers at Worlds:
2013: Beat Wang Yihan (R16) and Wang Shixian (QF) in straight games
2014: Beat Wang Shixian (QF) in three games
2015: Beat Li Xue Rui (R16) in three games
2017: Beat Sun Yu (QF) and Chen Yu Fei (SF) in straight games
2018: Did not face any Chinese shuttler
2019: Beat Chen Yu Fei (SF) in straight games
By Sindhu’s admission, beating the then reigning Olympic champion Li Xuerui was a big turning point in her career, and it had shown the world that, on her day, she can take on the best in their own backyard. She had beaten Li at the China Masters in September 2012 by a scoreline of 21-19, 9-21, 21-16.
And as a camera-shy athlete, starting to soak in the limelight that came with being one of the best in the world, Sindhu said in an interview after returning to India: “Of course, life has changed a lot but this is only the beginning for me. I want to keep winning more and more.”