Sethi struck 60, while Sharma took 3-20
There was never a hint of irritation on her face as she nodded her head sagely and offered a warm smile to everyone, from fans to sports officials, during an event in Dubai recently.
And you begin to wonder if it's the same PV Sindhu whose powerful smashes and delicate drop shots rain down on badminton courts, tormenting the world's best players with her relentless aggressive approach.
It's that attacking style which has earned Sindhu two Olympic medals, a world championship gold and a place in the pantheon of India's greatest sports icons in history.
Now back after a four-month hiatus due to a stress fracture on her left foot, Sindhu is leading India's campaign at the Badminton Asia Mixed Team Championship (February 14-19) in Dubai.
During an exclusive interview with Khaleej Times, the 27-year-old shuttler opened up on her incredible journey from the Railways sports ground to the Olympic podium and how she has remained grounded despite becoming one of the richest female athletes in the world.
Q. Your journey has been incredible, two Olympic medals and a world championship gold. You also added the Commonwealth Games gold to your trophy cabinet last year. But the most striking feature about you is your consistency in the biggest events. The world championship gold was your fifth medal in that tournament, the biggest tournament after the Olympics in your sport. We know you still want to win many more, an Olympic gold maybe next year in Paris as well as a second world championship gold later this year. But having already achieved so much, what is that keeps you motivated to get up early every morning to train and work hard for these medals?
Yes, definitely, it's been a really long journey. It wasn’t easy at the same time, there were a lot of sacrifices, a lot of hard work put in, not only by me, but also my whole family, my parents, I mean they have sacrificed a lot of things for me. They have supported me, motivated me, no matter what. My dad still comes to every training session, sits there and watches me play till the end, and then he tells me what mistakes I am making! So the whole journey, there were a lot of ups and downs in life. Yes, I have seen success, but when I look back, I see everything, the whole journey since the time I started until now. It's been such a long journey where I have experienced a lot of things in life. But I think I would just say that it’s not just a few months of hard work, it takes years and years of hard work to come to a level. And I think to come to a level is fine, but to maintain that is even harder. So for that you need a lot of dedication, discipline, practice and hard work. All these things I have to keep doing to remain the player that can fight for the medals.
Q. You have also been named twice on the Forbes list of highest-paid female athletes in the world alongside Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles. These are global superstars. In India, you are as big an icon as the country's cricket stars. It's easy to get carried away with that kind of adulation, but you have remained incredibly humble. It's so refreshing to see that. How have you remained so grounded?
I think definitely it's my parents. They always told me that, 'you know, to whichever level you reach or the level of success you see, you always have to understand from where you have come. You need to know your roots, you need to know your values'. They always taught me to stay grounded because that is very important at the end of the day. I mean you get success in life. But I think that success takes you to another level where you can achieve a lot more and I feel that is only the beginning and there is a lot more to do and there is a lot more to achieve. So I think I am happy that I was one among the top athletes, the top people there on the Forbes list, which gives me the motivation to achieve a lot more. As you mentioned, yes, it’s for me a great honour that I am also named among those top athletes. So it’s great and I am happy but at the same time it's important for me to understand what it is. It has been a long journey again to take you back!
Q. We know that when you first picked up a racquet at the age of eight, the Indian Railways team's badminton players encouraged you and played with you at their sports facilities. Those were your baby steps and you probably feel a deep sense of gratitude towards them for their kindness. Now we know that you sometimes go out of your way to help and motivate young Indian badminton players...
Yes, it's true that the Railways players helped me a lot. Now I think people looking at me, people taking me as an inspiration, with my knowledge, I would definitely pass it on. I would tell them 'this is what you need to do, that you need to work hard to get to the top level'. Badminton as a sport in India was always good, and now it’s doing really very well. I am sure in the next couple of years there will be a lot of youngsters who can do really well and come to a level and get a lot of success for our country. And as for my part (on and off the court), I would always give my inputs to the youngsters and I would tell them whatever is the best for them. But at the end of the day, it’s their own hard work that will make the difference.
Q. Every Indian sports icon has an inspiring story, some of these stories have been made into movies. There have been hugely successful biopics on MS Dhoni, Mary Kom and Milkha Singh. We have heard that there has been a plan for a biopic on you too. Your story is quite incredible as well because at one point, critics were quite merciless when they wrote you off after you lost a few major finals. But you remained dignified and responded to them by winning the world championship...
Yes, but it still hasn't started. We are still looking at it because we also have to see how it is and what it is because we do not want to do it in a hurry. It needs to include everything, since the time I started, my journey, my victories, all the ups and downs. So we have to definitely plan it very well and accordingly place it in the right time. It’s not just a biopic because I would want my story to inspire a lot of youngsters and make them understand that it’s not just few months of hard work, it takes years and years of hard work to come to a level. So I just wish that people will love it and I hope it becomes an inspiration for a lot of youngsters and a lot of people out there.
Sethi struck 60, while Sharma took 3-20
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