Following the announcement by Carolina Marin that she has a torn ACL, which all but rules her out of being able to defend her Olympic title at the Tokyo Games, one might think that PV Sindhu would be best placed to take gold in Tokyo. After all, the Indian won silver in Rio and, in Marin's absence due to the same injury, had won the 2019 World Championships.
Sindhu, though, has urged caution on those hopes. Speaking to the media in an interaction arranged by Sports Authority of India (SAI), she said that there were plenty of challengers for the Olympic title.
Is she the favourite?
"I need to stay focused. It isn't that if Carolina Marin is out, then there is no competition. You can't take it easy at the Olympics. Everyone from 1-10 in the rankings is tough. Everyone is preparing for [the] Olympics. There are two players. Tai Tzu Ying is very strong and Ratchanok Intanon is very skillful. Chen Yu Fei is very good, as is the left hander He Bing Jiao [both from China]. Everyone has a different style of play," said Sindhu.
Challenges of no tournaments
The two Chinese players named by Sindhu haven't competed in an international tournament since 2020. Sindhu, like nearly every other badminton player, will be heading to the Olympics without much competition practice -- the last World Tour event to be held was the All England Championships in April this year. With everyone taking the time away from competition to add new skills to their game, Sindhu is aware of the challenges she faces.
"We haven't played each other for two months now. The All England was the last tournament we played. By the time we get to the Olympics, it's going to be different. We normally don't [get] so much time off between tournaments to learn new techniques and skills. Everyone is going to come to Tokyo with improved skills and technique. We won't know each other's games. Everyone will come to the Olympics in top form. Everyone will come with 1-2 new skills. I'll have a couple of additional skills too," she says.
Differences from 2016
While Sindhu won't mark herself as a favourite, she knows that there will be more of a target on her back, which wasn't the case in Rio. "Back then, I was a new entry. Now people know how I play. Every player knows how to read your game," says Sindhu. But she doesn't think this adds any additional pressure on her. If others now know more of the way she plays, Sindhu too feels she knows what the Olympics are about.
"In 2016, it was completely different. I just didn't know how it would be. Now it's not as if there is more pressure, but there are more responsibilities and expectations. I just have to give my best. It will be different because it's my second Olympics. The first time, I was not aware of the atmosphere and the feel of an Olympics. Now I know how it will be. I want to give my best.
"I have five years more of experience than I had in Rio. It's going to be different. The way I play against opponents is different. Skill wise, thinking is going to be different. Back then, you don't (sic) know how to deal with some athletes," she says.
Handling pressure at the Olympics
If there is a reason Sindhu must be considered one of the favourites for Tokyo, it would be her ability to seemingly peak in big tournaments -- for example, her 2019 season was one of her worst ones on the international circuit but she still managed to win the one event that mattered -- the World Championship title.
"The Olympics are completely different than any other tournament. The Olympics is where the pressure, competition is very different. There is a lot of pressure and everyone comes at the top of their game. But some people play really good, some people come under pressure. That's why we have to take every athlete seriously. You can't think this player will be easy because this is the Olympics.
"A lot of people say that I do well in big tournaments. I don't know if it's just the way I am. I've always found it important to focus. Each point is very important. You can't think of the finals from day one. For me, I just take each match at a time," she says.