NEW DELHI: PV Sindhu’s form has been scorching hot in Rio de Janeiro, and wins over the world No 2 Yang Wihan and sixth-ranked Nozomi Okuhara have catapulted her into the gold medal singles match of the 2016 Olympics. The 21-year-old entered the Games under the shadow of Saina Nehwal, the world No 5, and has stunned opponents with her exceptional play under the expert eye of coach P Gopichand.
Sindhu is the first Indian in an Olympics badminton final and standing between her and an unprecedented gold medal is the top seed Carolina Marin.
Marin, 23, is world No. 1 but her win over Li Xuerui, the defending Olympic champion from China, to advance to the gold medal singles match is significant because China had been badminton’s powerhouse, sweeping all five badminton gold medals at the 2012 London Games. Li’s gold was a big part of that dominance, and being beaten by Marin 21-14, 21-16 in less than an hour was a crushing loss.
It’s on that high that Marin – who has owned the world champion title in women’s badminton singles for two years – begins the final against Sindhu. Dubbed the ‘Girl Nadal’ in Spain and inspired by a love of flamenco dancing and sporting hero Rafael Nadal, Marin has for long dreamt of becoming the first European woman to win a badminton Olympic gold. Her success is remarkable, for being a two-time world champion in a sport normally dominated by Asia is quite something. Along the way, Marin has blazed the trail for badminton in Spain where minority sports struggle for funding and attention in the shadows of the nation’s star-studded football teams.
Four years ago at the London Olympics, Marin was beaten in the first round as a 19-year-old by gold medal winner Li Xuerui of China, but much has changed since winning the world championships for the first time two years ago. She retained her world title in Indonesia last year and won the European championships for a second time in May to consolidate her place as world No 1 and the only European player in the top 10.
And despite speaking of the 14-time tennis grand slam champion in reverential terms – she followed Nadal as Spain’s flag bearer at the opening ceremony on August 5 – Marin has admitted she has already done more for badminton in her homeland than even Nadal has for tennis.
“Before Nadal we had already discovered tennis. Manolo Santana was the one that opened tennis to Spain. However, I am the one who has opened badminton to Spain,” she had said before the Games. “I feel very proud and fortunate to have done so. Hopefully in the future we will have more Spanish champions.”
Sindhu is fully aware of what lies ahead. “My target is gold and I will play my heart out. It will be the biggest match of my career,” she said ahead of today’s final. For the record, Sindhu had beaten Marin 21-15, 18-21, 21-17 across 72 minutes in last year’s Denmark Open final – her first win over the Spaniard in four outings.