PV Sindhu: Shouldering A Billion Dreams
PV Sindhu: Shouldering A Billion Dreams

Silver, Bronze, Gold? - will the third time be a charm for the champion shuttler?

Photographed by: Aneev Rao


Featuring Ather 450 Apex


On August 20, 2016, the cafeteria of the call centre where I work is an intriguing sight. It's past midnight and time for a change in the shift. Amidst half-asleep greetings and handovers, the small TV in the corner constantly draws the fleeting attention of everyone. One question rings loud: “Do you think she'll win the gold?”


20-year-old Pusarla Venkata Sindhu is locked in a battle against Carolina Marin, who would become her arch-nemesis for the next decade. Marin enters as the favourite, having won the world championship twice up until then and ranked as the best player globally, advancing to the final without dropping a game. For a 20-year-old, who’s pushing through a stress fracture, after her senior and Olympic medalist compatriot Saina Nehwal was knocked out before the quarterfinals, it’s David vs Goliath.


Yet, the battle goes down to the wire, with both Olympians matched toe-to-toe. Unfortunately, it ends with Marin clinching the gold. After the initial sighs of disappointments, the cafeteria erupts in a rather wholesome round of applause. PV Sindhu has just become India's youngest individual Olympic medalist and the first Indian woman to win an Olympic silver medal. Looking back, Sindhu remembers, “Honestly, I never thought I would win a medal. I was just like any other kid, excited to play in my first Olympics. When I went to my first Olympics, my focus was simply on doing well and giving my all. Match by match, I kept winning, and things went well. Though I reached the finals and couldn't win, I gave it my best. When I returned to India, people told me how crazy it was back home. Life has completely changed for me since then.” 



PV Sindhu with Ather 450 Apex on Man's World India May 2024 Digital Cover

Cropped & Hi-low Skirt: LEH studios | Earrings: Swarovski | Cuff: Zara | Shoes: Christian Louboutin | Bike: Ather 450 Apex



Regardless of her heroics in Brazil, navigating the path to the Rio Olympics was quite daunting, remembers Sindhu, “Before the Olympics, in 2015, I had a major injury, a stress fracture, which made me doubt if I could come back and give my best. I had to take a six-month break and then play almost 22 tournaments before the Olympics,” she recalls, highlighting the demanding journey which often remains hidden behind the glamour of athletes.


But despite the testing conditions, the Olympian always remembers the pivotal role of her parents, PV Ramana and P Vijaya, both national-level volleyball players. “My parents have been incredibly supportive throughout my journey, from the very beginning until now. They've always been there for me. Sometimes my dad observes my matches and provides feedback on what mistakes I've made. Other times, when things aren't going well, my mom offers words of encouragement and reminds me that there's always another opportunity,” shares the 28-year-old.


On the set of this cover shoot, the Olympian is ahead of her call time. Despite her nonchalant and easy-going approach, there’s an unexplainable aura around her. “Everything looks good on her,” remarks the stylist on set, and indeed it does. Following her is a crew of documentary filmmakers, sensing a star in the making. But the glamour barely tells the story of Sindhu’s years of hard work leading up to this moment. Today, arguably as the face of badminton, the 28-year-old acknowledges the pressure of going three-for-three at Paris 2024, “the pressure is there definitely,” says the Olympian, adding, “The first Olympics, there were no expectations. For my third Olympics, I need to be at my best, 100 per cent focused and smart. It won't be easy, and I must be prepared for any challenge and atmosphere.”


Excerpts from the interview 


How has your preparation been for the 2024 Olympics? Any changes to your routine compared to the last two editions? 
Definitely, it's very different. There have been changes, including having a new coach now. It's a lot of pressure compared to the previous two Olympics, with higher expectations. However, preparation-wise, everything is going well. I believe in the process, and if I continue to work hard, things will fall into place. That's what I believe in. 


Did you have to work on improving any specific techniques? 
Yes, I'm working on everything—stamina, technique, and skills. It's crucial to focus on all aspects because opponents study your game, just as you study theirs. You need to be adaptable and constantly evolve your game. Everyone brings their A-game to the Olympics, so staying dynamic is key. Learning and adapting are ongoing processes. Every day presents an opportunity to refine and perfect your skills through practice. 


PV Sindhu for Man's World India's Digital Cover for May 2024 ahead of Paris Olympics 2024

Pantsuit: Kanika Goyal | Jewellery: All Swarovski | Shoes: Christian Louboutin


What has your training been like with Prakash Padukone? 
Well, it's been good, and regardless of the results, Sir has been kind enough to mentor me. It's something I never imagined, and things have changed. Since October of 2019, I've been injured. Before that, I trained with Sir a couple of times, and after the injury, I had to take a break and return in January. Since then, I've been here, travelling to tournaments from here, so it's quite different. He's incredibly experienced, and I feel fortunate to have him as my mentor. Results will come, but what matters most is believing in the process, which is what Sir instilled in me. If you work hard and stay dedicated, success will follow, no matter how long it takes. The key is to keep pushing forward and doing what needs to be done.


That's the physical side of the game. And what about the mental side? 
Sometimes, I meditate to stay calm and focused, especially with the pressure and expectations to win. It's important to understand your thoughts and remain composed. Meditation, listening to music, or simply sitting calmly helps me prepare before matches or tournaments. Each player has their routine, and mine involves strategising with my coach, studying opponents, and adapting my game accordingly. It's a personalised process, as every athlete approaches it differently. I focus on adapting to each opponent's style, as the game varies with every match. 


What do you usually do when the results are not coming? 
Yeah, it's tough. Dealing with setbacks is never easy. Right now, I'm in that zone where it's challenging, but I have to stay strong and believe in myself because nothing comes easy. Despite recovering from an injury and being fully fit now, there's still plenty of room for improvement. With every tournament, there's something new to learn, whether it's about my opponents, adjustments in my game, or physical and technical aspects. I'm always open to exploring new options because there's always room to grow, as I mentioned. Sure, there are days when losses weigh heavily on you, but you have to keep believing in yourself. I've been through it before, so I know the importance of maintaining that belief. 


What's the most important lesson you've learned from a setback? 
I've realised the importance of patience and self-belief. These two qualities are crucial, especially during tough times. When facing challenges or setbacks, it's essential to maintain hope and trust that things will improve. Patience becomes particularly valuable when things aren't going as planned. These lessons have been very important in my journey so far, guiding me through obstacles and helping me progress. 


How do you deal with that pressure? 
There's always pressure you can't ignore. You have to confront it head-on to understand the situation. Avoiding it altogether is not the answer. It's okay to face defeat because it teaches you valuable lessons for the future. Doubts about performance, outcomes, and the unknown can be overwhelming. But you have to let go of those thoughts and just play. It's through playing that you truly understand the situation. Even if you don't succeed, you learn how to face challenges next time. Understanding and embracing the situation is key to learning and growing from it. 


Which opponents are you looking forward to facing? 
Everyone is highly competitive, especially at the Olympics. Each opponent poses a challenge because they all want to win medals. The women's badminton circuit is fiercely competitive overall. So, I'm looking forward to every match, regardless of the opponent's rank. Anything can happen, and every match is an opportunity to perform at my best.


PV Sindhu with Ather 450 Apex for Man's World India Digital Cover May 2024

Cropped & Hi-low Skirt: LEH studios | Earrings: Swarovski | Cuff: Zara | Shoes: Christian Louboutin | Bike: Ather 450 Apex


Outside the badminton court, how would you define yourself? 
I consider myself very sociable and relatable; I connect with people easily. Additionally, I have a passion for travelling, although, during tournaments, the opportunity for leisurely travel is limited. Apart from that, I'm just like any other girl who enjoys music and the simple pleasures of life. 


How do you usually unwind or relax? 
I sketch sometimes, and to calm myself down, I also meditate and listen to music. When I'm in Hyderabad, I like to spend time playing with my dog Rio to unwind and refresh. During matches, it's more about self-reflection, meditation, or taking a walk while listening to music. In Hyderabad or Bangalore, it's mostly training, with Sundays off. During downtime, I might do photo shoots with sponsors, which I enjoy. But it's also important to take time for myself, like getting a massage, because training can be intense and relaxation is necessary. 


What about your social life? 
I don't have much of a social life because of my busy training schedule. Most of my time is spent training at home. So, I don't get to go out very often or spend much time with friends. However, when I do attend events or social gatherings, I'm quite sociable and outgoing. I easily mingle with people, engage in conversations, and feel comfortable in social settings. That's just how I am—I'm very free-spirited and enjoy interacting with others. 


Do you have any rituals before heading to the court? 
I believe in praying to God before heading to the court. As for rituals or specific items, it's not about wearing a favourite t-shirt or using a particular racket because those might need to change based on various factors like the stream or matching colours with the opponent. The key for me is to have faith in my training and give my all on the court. 


What are you currently watching? 
I haven't been watching much lately. I recently came from China, where many of these things don't work, so yeah. 


Favourite cheat meal? 
Of course, being a Hyderabadi, Hyderabadi biryani. 


After the Olympics are done, how are you planning to unwind? 
First, looking forward to getting that medal back. I know it's not easy, but it's not impossible. Once I achieve that, we'll have a massive celebration. Continuing to play is a given, and spending time with my family is crucial. My nephew is in Australia, so I'll probably visit him since it's been a while. Also, spending quality time with Rio is a priority. As for food, indulging in whatever I like, whether it's junk food or something else. 


Any specific cravings? 
Well, nothing in particular, but I'm sure there'll be plenty once I achieve my goals (chuckles). 




On the cover: Leather gilet: AISPI | Lace panelled Skirt: LEH Studios | Jewellery: All Swarovski | Shoes: Christian Louboutin

Editor: Shivangi Lolayekar (@shivangil23)

Stylist: Surbhi Shukla (@surbhishukla)

Art Director: Hemali Limbachiya (@hema_limbachiya)

Head of Production: Siddhi Chavan (@randomwonton)

Hair & Makeup: Tasneem Rawther (@tasneem_rawther)

Assistant Stylist: Supriya Rao Ramavathu (@whosupriya)

Talent Management: Cornerstone Sport (@cornerstoneway)

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