For the best part of the formative years of her badminton, PV Sindhu and her family — father PV Ramana and mother Vijaya — resided in Marredpally. Both Ramana and Vijaya were national volleyball players with the former even being part of the Indian volleyball team that won the bronze medal in the 1986 Asian Games in Seoul. Sindhu would often accompany her parents to the Railways Recreation Club Ground where her parents were involved in practice sessions of the South Central Railways volleyball teams.
Never interested in volleyball, she would play badminton for ‘time pass’. Gradually, she became closer to the game but the turning point came when she met former All-England champion Pullela Gopichand at a function in Hyderabad. “I want to be like Gopi uncle,” she would say to her father. It is a different matter Ramana has differences with Gopichand and has even walked out of his coaching system.
“Seeing her interest in badminton, I took her to coach at the late Mehboob Ali Railway Officers Club in Secunderabad. Ali was very good with his basics. I think the initial years under Mehboob sir and SM Arif gave a solid foundation. She was a very keen listener from a young age. She would grasp any inputs that she would get from coaches. She was just eight when she started playing and would practise for hours,” Ramana says.
Sindhu began to win local tournaments in her age group. She hated to lose and would cry if she lost in the first round. It needed a lot of cajoling and counselling initially but gradually she learnt that losing and winning are part of the game. The motto ‘I can do it’ was always to be part of her highly successful journey.
Seeing Sindhu’s tremendous progress and the interest in the game, Ramana finally took her daughter to Pullela Gopichand, who by then had already made a big name as a coach with Saina Nehwal being one of the finest badminton players in the world.
But the biggest problem was the distance between their Marredpally residence and the Gopichand Academy, which was in Gachibowli. It was very painful and time-taking for Ramana to Sindhu to travel this 80 km distance daily. As long she practised at Lal Bahadur stadium, it was fine for Ramana but Gachibowli was quite a distance.
“What used to be for two days a week became a routine. Sindhu began to cry whenever I asked her to skip a practice session. It became tedious, as we had to get up at 3:30 am and rush to the academy. I had to come back to the office, which was in Secunderabad. We were sitting tight, but seeing Sindhu’s growing interest we even hired a driver,” recalls Ramana.
Incidentally, Sindhu’s first national-level tournament ended in tears, as she lost in the first round of the U-10 category in the Krishna Khaitan tournament at Chennai. “She cried a lot. We had to pacify her and motivate her. We explained to her that everyone loses. This is a sport, after all,” recollects Ramana.
That loss was a big stepping stone for Sindhu with Ramana making her mentally tougher. “I could see a change in her attitude. Soon, she won the national title in U-13. That gave her confidence. She also won the doubles with Maneesha. She would play doubles too,’’ said Ramana.
It got too strenuous as she would play at least five to six matches a day. But Gopi stepped in and firmly said she should not play doubles anymore. Though it hurt initially, Ramana later realised the wisdom of it.
The rest is history as they say. With two Olympics medals, the second Indian to do so after wrestler Sushil Kumar, Sindhu has walked into an elite legend list.