New Delhi: Her eyes were moist looking up at the heavens while her hands on her head - PV Sindhu had finally realised her dream of winning a gold medal at the BWF World Championships. After failing at the final hurdle for the past two years, Sindhu reached her third consecutive Worlds final and got third time lucky.
As Sindhu demolished Nozomi Okuhara of Japan 21-7, 21-7 in just 38 minutes, she became the first Indian shuttler to become a world champion. As she stood at the top of the podium with that gold medal around her neck and the Indian national anthem playing, Sindhu stared at the flag with tears in her eyes - this victory meant a lot to her.
Three years ago in Rio, Sindhu had become India's first shuttler to bag a silver medal at the Olympics. A year after that, she became the India's first silver-medallist at the World Championships. And now, she is the first world champion from India. Next is Mission Olympic gold for her.
Before that however, she is celebrating her historic victory is Basel and News18 got in touch with her. Here are the excerpts from the interview.
Q: First of all, congratulations. It was an incredible victory for you, especially to think that you avenged the defeat of the 2017 World Cup final to Okuhara - a match that went on forever. I remember Saina Nehwal famously saying, "I ran out of fuel watching her". Yesterday was far more one-sided. What changed from 2017 to now, Sindhu? You were aggressive and attacked your opponent from the word go.
A: Yes, firstly, thank you so much for your wishes. I think it is a great moment for me and also I am really very proud that finally I got this. Comparing it to 2017, I think definitely game wise I have changed a lot and I have been really working on my skills a lot and also on my physical fitness. So, everything put on together definitely, a few changes here and there. So, I think yesterday's match, I dominated from the starting and I maintained the lead and I finished it off.
Q: Have you managed to get some sleep since yesterday? Now that you have woken up a day later, has it sunk in that you are the World Champion and that you are the best in the world? Because all this while you've been competing in the finals, people have been talking about this final jinx. You have broken it in such a big match like the World Championship.
A: Definitely not really much of sleep (laughs). I wanted this very badly, for two years, I kept it in a pile. I have now finally changed it into a Gold. So, I have to go back and celebrate it.
A: She was actually busier than me because she was had a lot of people over, but I think she was really very happy and it was a surprise for her. All of a sudden, after the match I immediately told her, she was really very happy.
Q: This was your third successive final but somehow I was slightly surprised that your celebrations were rather muted. What was the reason behind that? You'd won the gold you'd been yearning to win it. In all the interviews you have given, you have said that I need to win an Olympic Gold and I need to win a World Championship Gold. Why the celebrations then were muted?
A: I think it's because I was very focused and patient. I started the match very well, I was dominating from the very start and I finished it off in a very good way. There were just a lot of emotions put together - I was calm and I was almost in tears. I was just holding it all in my head, that finally I did it. You know, when you win a medal you are like, 'hey it's done' and you shout out, right? But for me, it was a lot more emotion as that medal really means a lot to me.
Q: Now there will be other tournaments in between, but it will come down to Tokyo and I know that you and coach Gopi (Pullela Gopichand) have already started preparing for the Olympics. Tell me one thing, what is it about your game this time? Was it the strength training that you have been doing with Sreekanth Verma? Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
A: Yes, for me it was very important to maintain my fitness as well as skill. So, even if it was far, I made sure that I went every day and worked on my fitness. So, I go to Chitra Academy and train there with my fitness coach. I have been training under Sreekanth Verma for two years. It really suited me and I am continuing with him. As I said it really helped me a lot, few changes here and there, they make a huge difference I would say.
Q: I know Gopi was slightly nervous, but just before the last match point, he gave you a slight smile. What was the conversation about after you won, what did he say to you? Actually let's begin with what was the advice that he gave you before the game because he knew that this was a repeat of 2017 and you had to be mentally strong. So, what did he say to you before the game and what did he say to you after the game?
A: Before the game, normally Ms Kim (Kim Ji Hyun) and Gopi Sir just said play your game and we will see if anything needs to be changed strategy wise as everybody is of the same standards. There is no particular strategy because we play each other almost all the time in every tournament. So, it was more of like, you just play, if any mistakes (crop up) or any changes (are to be made), we'll tell you on court. That's how I started it and everything went on really well. Later, I finally finished it off. From the starting, he was like one more, one by one, and when it was the last point, he had that smile on his face. It was finally done.
After the match was over, we couldn't discuss much because I had prize distribution and a lot of press but then later he said you finally did it and I thanked him. We spoke of the match, how did it go and stuff.
Q: The thing that stood out back in the 2017 final were those crazy long rallies and what we were expecting the same from this game. But you never allowed Okuhara to go into those rallies, how did you manage to do that?
A: Yes, from the starting I was very dominant and my attack was really good and I was really aggressive, I did not give her a chance to actually you know play safe, I just went on with the aggression mode and I kept it that way and I maintained the lead. So, I gave a few easy points and I took them back. I think that really worked.
Q: You know one of the things that is working is also the yelling practice on court. Anyone who knows you, knows you are soft-spoken and not at all aggressive off the court. But now, you really are in the form of your life. A lot of people spoke about Yamaguchi and Marin not playing so it was easier, but having said that, you beat Tai Tzu Ying and you beat Chen (Yufei).
A: I don't think that if they were not there so it was easy. The top 1-15 players in the world, in the women's circle, are in the same standard and you see a lot of upsets in this tournament. So, who plays well and gives their best wins. I think everybody gave their best, everybody was prepared for this tournament and everybody gave their 100 per cent. So, I think it was a good tough tournament and we had some tough competitors also and of course, Tai Tzu is one of the top players. That match was very much important to me and that win gave me a lot more confidence.
Q: I remember when I had interviewed you and Saina together, one of the things you both agreed on was how difficult it was to beat Tai Tzu Ying. At that time, Saina also said that she is the best player right now.
A: Yes. Absolutely.
Q: So, incredible achievement, Sindhu! Now tell me what are your plans once you get back? I know you have kept yourself away from social media on your phone and I know you are generally active on social media. Have you got the phone back?
A: Social media, of course, I need to get back and thank everybody. It's so nice of everyone from some Bollywood stars, the Prime Minister and Chief Ministers, everybody actually congratulated me. I think it is really nice and kind of them to congratulate me on my success. So, I would definitely thank each and every one and I have already done few but a few more are left.
Q: Just the last question Sindhu, then I am going to let you go. I know you are waiting at the airport to catch your flight back to India and Hyderabad Biryani cooked by your mother waits for you at home. I know you are very fond of it. So all excited?
A: Yes, definitely I want to go home and meet my family. I am just waiting to see my nephew, he's one-year-old now. I am really waiting to see him, I really miss him.