By Sudipto Ganguly
MUMBAI (Reuters) – Dubbed “silver girl” for a string of near-misses on the international stage, India’s Pusarla Sindhu hopes to have finally shed that unwanted moniker after capturing her first world badminton championships title at the weekend.
Sindhu became India’s first badminton world champion when she beat Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara 21-7 21-7 to win the women’s singles in Basel on Sunday, a victory that also boosted the nation’s hopes of an Olympic gold medal in Tokyo next year.
After finishing runner-up at the 2016 Olympics, last year’s Commonwealth Games and Asian Games and the previous two world championships finals, Sindhu was delighted to stand on top of the podium.
“I was expecting this for a long time. It’s definitely a proud moment for me and for India. A lot of people have been waiting,” the 24-year-old from Hyderabad told reporters.
“This is my answer to the people who have asked me questions over and over. I just wanted to answer with my racket and with this win – that’s all.”
Sindhu played in five other finals last year without winning any of them, raising questions about her mental strength.
In Switzerland, however, she removed any doubts about her game, raining down one ferocious smash after another on Okuhara to finish the match in 38 minutes.
“I had goosebumps when I heard them say ‘world champion’ and when the national anthem was played and I saw the Indian flag being raised,” said an emotional Sindhu. “There are really no words to describe that,”
While India’s field hockey team have won eight Olympic titles, shooter Abhinav Bindra remains the only individual gold medalist for the country of 1.3 billion, who are starved of top sporting success outside cricket.
With her silver medal from Rio, Sindhu is already India’s most successful female Olympian, though she has no intention of resting on her laurels.
“Well, one goal is achieved and the next one is there — Olympics,” she told The Hindu newspaper. “I will really work hard and will prepare to win that one also by doing well in the Super Series in the run-up to the Tokyo Games next year.”
Away from the court, Sindhu has also struck gold — she was tied for 13th in Forbes’ list of the highest-paid female athletes over the last year with $5.5 million.
Sports marketing firm Baseline Ventures, which manages Sindhu, said the athlete currently endorses 14 brands and her off-court earnings trail only cricket captain Virat Kohli among the country’s sporting elite.
“There will be a lot more people who will be potentially interested,” Baseline managing director Tuhin Mishra told Reuters.
“Sindhu commands a certain price and a lot of sponsors are already with her due to her qualities.
“It’s not a flash in the pan as lots of factors are at play for the sponsors.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)