She is the star of the nation, cynosure of the world’s attention and on the top of her game. Her enviable routine over the last few weeks has consisted of clicking selfies with the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, being received by K T Rama Rao at the airport, felicitated by the Telangana Chief Minister KCR, playing a game of badminton with the AP Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu, picking up awards like the Khel Ratna and cruising in the new BMW gifted by no less than the God of Cricket, Sachin Tendulkar. That is the current scenario being played out in young P V Sindhu’s eventful life. However, the path that led her to the glory is replete with challenges, hard work and above all, a gruelling fitness regimen. Behind the Silver medal she snapped up at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, is a story that has all the trappings of a blockbuster.
It’s an honour for RITZ to present the nitty-gritty of what went into the making of the super-shuttler who has mastered the winning formula.
Creating headlines and drawing the world’s attention to her achievements is nothing new to Pusarla Venkata Sindhu, now popular as PV Sindhu. The youngest recipient of India’s fourth highest civilian honour, the Padma Shri, Sindhu started her journey on the court when she joined Pullela Gopichand Academy, at the age of eight! Her inspiration was the victory of the founder of the academy at the 2001 All England Open Badminton Champion.
The 83-minute nail biting final clincher between her and Carolina Maria Marin went the latter’s way not because Sindhu was found wanting in any area but only because it was Carolina’s lucky day in the court. The world sat up and watched in awe as the 21-year-old gave breathless moments to the older Spanish sensation as they battled on the court for the top slot. It’s not just Sindhu’s racquet skills that the sports connoisseurs are discussing fervently but also her staying power, her stamina and her ferocious fitness that were on display for all to see. Her silver medal win in women’s singles made her the first Indian to reach the final of an Olympics badminton event and the youngest Indian to finish in an individual event at the Olympics.
Within two years of joining Gopichand’s academy she won the 5th Servo All India ranking championship in the doubles category and the singles title at the Ambuja Cement All India ranking, in the under-10 years category. In the under-13 years category, Sindhu won the singles title at the sub-juniors in Puducherry, doubles titles at the All India Tournament, IOC All India Ranking, the sub-junior nationals and the All India Ranking in Pune. She also won the under-14 team gold medal at the 51st National School Games in India.
Sindhu caught international attention when she broke into the top 20 of the BWF World Ranking in September 2012 at the age of 17. In 2013, she became the first-ever Indian women’s singles player to win a medal at the Badminton World Championships and was honoured with the Arjuna award. The year 2013 was phenomenal for the then 18-year-old. She won the Malaysian open title 2013, her maiden Grand Prix Gold title, first medal in women’s singles at the World Championships and the Macau Open Grand Prix Gold title which she pocketed in a record 37 minutes! In January 2016, Sindhu won the Malaysia Masters Grand Prix Gold women’s singles title once again, making her the first Indian to have won two back-to-back medals in the World Badminton Championships. She was named 2014 NDTV Indian of the year. In the same year, she brought accolades to the country by winning a bronze in 2014 Uber Cup held at New Delhi. In the preceding year, she had won a bronze medal in women’s singles event in 2013 BWF World Championships hosted by China. “I have a special place in my heart for Macau for obvious reasons,” says the ace shuttler, “I scored three wins in a row, 2013, 2014 and 2015, my first hat trick.”
In March 2015, three months before her 20th birthday, she became the youngest recipient of India’s fourth highest civilian honor, the Padma Shri.
“It was such an amazing feeling to be received by KTR garu personally at the airport. Honestly, I didn’t expect such a wonderful homecoming” – PV Sindhu
A simple Telugu girl at heart, Sindhu is a foodie and loves listening to music whenever she has the time. Born to former volleyball players, Pusarla Vijaya and Pusarla Venkata Ramana, an Arjuna awardee, Sindhu chose Badminton after getting inspired by Gopichand. The first thing Sindhu did when she reached home after romping to victory in Rio was to visit the Mahankali Temple where she had prayed for her victory and next she reached home to have her fill of Hyderabadi Biryani and Mysore Pak, two of her most favourite indulgences that her mother Vijaya had cooked for her. Amongst many things forbidden by her coach Pullela Gopichand during her training were also chocolates and her cell phone! “I love junk food. Ice creams, chocolates, biryani, sweets, you name it. All I could think of after winning was to celebrate my victory by indulging in all of them. I am lucky to have such an amazing coach who watched me at every step because I can be quite a glutton. After my parents, Gopichand sir has been my backbone, mentor, motivator, all in one,” says a grateful Sindhu, “Having said that, my victory is the result of the entire team’s hard work and dedication. I can’t name everybody but my physiotherapist Kiran sir, Johnson, the list is long. They have helped me overcome setbacks, injuries and bounce back throughout my sports career. I am also very grateful to the Telangana government for their support. It was such an amazing feeling to be received by KTR garu personally at the airport. Honestly, I didn’t expect such a wonderful homecoming.”
A rousing reception was accorded by the Telangana government to the Olympic silver medallist as she walked out of the airport. She and coach Gopichand were given a grand welcome followed by a rally in an open-top-motorcade that led to the Gachibowli stadium where she was felicitated by the Chief Minister KCR. Sindhu’s father belongs to Telangana and her mother hails from Andhra. Reason enough for both the governments to rejoice in her victory. Sindhu was also invited personally by the AP Chief Minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu for a felicitation in Vijayawada where he played a match with her on the stage. Says Sindhu, “It brought back so many memories from my childhood. I felt very nostalgic visiting Vijayawada where I had spent a lot of time with my maternal grandparents. I appreciate the gesture,” she says revelling in all the attention being showered on her.
“The most striking feature in Sindhu’s game is her attitude and the never-say-die spirit” – Pullela Gopichand
From her early years at the legendary coach’s academy, PV Sindhu was made to understand that sacrifices are a part of the road to excellence. Gopichand had banned junk food and sweets from Sindhu’s diet in the run up to the Games. “Sugar hampers recovery; it causes inflammation,” explains the coach who watched her meals, sleeping pattern as well as training, like a hawk. However, after ensuring that her name went up on the wall of fame, the elated coach says, “I had deprived her from having sweet curd which she likes the most. I also stopped her from eating ice cream. Now she can eat whatever she wants. And yeah, her phone is back with her.”
Every meal that PV Sindhu had was closely supervised and measured. But that wasn’t the challenge, the real challenge was with her poor appetite. She was given high calorie foods when she wasn’t feeling hungry enough. During the Games, her diet focused on high energy, protein-based and recovery inducing foods.
Besides a strictly monitored diet and sleep, her physical training was gruelling, to state it mildly. Even though her fitness regime was built since she started off at the age of 8, the two crucial months of training in the lead up to the Games were intensive. “Her daily schedule consisted of three sessions, with the first one beginning at 4 am which continued till 6.30 to 7 am,” says Gopichand, “We would be back by about eight for another couple of hours of group session. Then back again around 11 am for an hour and a half. In the evening she had a gym and court session or a gym and running session.” In essence, that amounts to seven hours a day, six days a week! If you haven’t been bamboozled yet, hold your breath for the real deal.
Sindhu had to do at least a 100 push-ups and 200 sit-ups a day. The latter were not repetitions but variations of exercises that activated the core and abdominal muscles. Thrice a week she had to do 600 to 700 abdominal routines. By a conservative estimate, she did about 600 push ups and 2400 abdominal exercises each week!
While Gopichand is the star trainer, her physiotherapist Kiran Challagundla played a major role as well. “Sindhu is a tall girl. For her, balance and stability drills are essential. The routine has to keep varying and we tweaked it each week,” says Kiran. The champ had to undergo a blood test every two months so that her nutrition and supplements could be monitored to compensate for any deficiencies. Her body weight and heart rate were constantly supervised to assess her form. Additionally, she had to run for 400 metres to 10 kilometres everyday for endurance building.
“I used to get depressed whenever I lost. There were times in the past when I would cry in private and would keep questioning myself. But at Rio, I took one match at a time” – PV Sindhu
Mental toughness is another important factor for any player. “The most striking feature in Sindhu’s game is her attitude and the never-say-die spirit,” says Gopichand, the only man who probably knows her the best on the court. The fact that she would report on time at the coaching camps daily right from her early days of training, travelling a distance of 56 km from her residence, is perhaps a reflection of her willingness to go all the way to be the best in the game.
While all eyes were glued to Sindhu at Rio, the shuttler was oblivious to everything except her game. “I used to get depressed whenever I lost. There were times in the past when I would cry in private and would keep questioning myself. But at Rio, I took one match at a time. Every match was different and difficult. But I just focussed on doing my best. Anything could have happened. But I believed in myself. I did not think of winning the medal per se. It was more about winning one match at a time,” says Sindhu speaking of her state of mind while the entire Indian race was pinning their hopes on her. “My dream has come true thanks to the prayers of our entire country, my parents support and my coach. I feel on top of the world. I am on cloud nine,” says the girl who at a statuesque 5 feet 10, has had many modelling offers come her way. “I had walked the ramp in 2012 with all the top badminton players. I enjoyed every bit of it,” she says flashing the now globally famous charming smile.
One of the highest paid sportspersons in the country, Sindhu is a dutiful Indian daughter who trusts her parents to manage her earnings. “They look after every single need and want of mine,” she says referring to her parents, “I don’t have the mind space to think of anything but my game. I am fortunate to have such parents.” When she is not playing, she loves watching movies on the telly. “I am a big Mahesh Babu fan,” she gushes, “But I haven’t had the chance to meet him yet.”
We’re sure that will happen soon Sindhu, amongst your galore of conquests on the court.