Big-game Sindhu makes light of Li, adds CWG gold to her collection

PV Sindhu celebrates her gold medal (women's singles badminton) in the 2022 Commonwealth Games Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

Sindhu walked in with blue strapping on her left ankle and walked out with a gold medal around her neck. She has won so much already in her career - two Olympic medals, the world championship, all those Super Series titles - but this was missing from her collection: an individual gold in the Commonwealth Games.

She won it with ease.

Canada's Michelle Li is no pushover. The current world no 13 had won CWG gold in 2014 -- beating Sindhu en route -- and was back for more. On paper, this wasn't going to be straightforward. On the court, Li started the match well, mixing and matching her strokes. Long, short, left, right, she worked Sindhu to all corners of the court, trying to test her fitness. But big-game Sindhu is big-game Sindhu, a beast few can hold on to.

After the match, when asked about her secret to medalling at every big tournament she goes to, she laughed and said, "Let it remain a secret, eh!"

She had walked in with slight concerns over an injury that seemed to have hampered her movement in the previous day's semi-final. Her coach Park Tae-Sung would say that she had a small injury in her Achilles, tweaked in her epic quarter-final. In fact, post-match she didn't look too comfortable as she slowly worked her way through the press at the mixed zone, but on-court she was all fluid movement.

In the first game, she allowed Li to remain close, till about 7-7, when she started pulling away. She went into the break 11-8 up and never let the lead dip below that three-point margin, winning the first game 21-15.

In the middle of all that, Li pulled off the shot of the match: a tremendous disguised drop from deep in her own backcourt, a shot that brought out a wide smile from Li. But that was her personal highlight. Almost affronted, Sindhu attacked viciously to close out the game.

There was a shot in the second game that seemed to underline the zone Sindhu was in. A body smash from Li seemed destined for points, but a quick bend of her body and a quick flick of her racket and somehow the shuttle whizzed past a stunned a Li -- a defensive stroke converted into a deep, attacking, clear with a whip of her wrists. That moment came very early on, and after that it was never really any close. She was smashing everything, picking drops and returning them with horseshoe drops of her own, retrieving shuttles, judging leaves; when PV Sindhu is in gear, there's not much anyone can do.

She went into the break 11-6 up. The first point after that was a crosscourt smash from Sindhu that had Li sprawled on the floor in an unsuccessful attempt to get close to it. The story of the match, that picture.

The crowd, heavily partisan towards Sindhu, lived every point, loved every winner. Li fought back - and the NEC crowd, which has appreciated every fighter regardless of nationality through the past fortnight, roared her on too. Li closed the gap to 13-11; but then once again Sindhu went up a notch. She ended the game, the match, the tournament with a thunderous smash, the score for that second game reading 21-13.

The crowd were on their feet. They had just witnessed an elite athlete at her ruthless best.

"It feels really nice," she said after the match, medal around her neck. "I've been waiting a long time for this win. You can't just settle for whatever medal you get, obviously everyone wants to go back with a gold."

The 2014 upset never played on her mind, she said. "That was so long ago! I've beaten her many times [since] but you can never take it easy. Every match is a new one; anyone can have a great day or a poor one." Essentially saying that at this level, there's no option but to be at 100% from the get-go.

On Monday, she was. 100%.

As ever, she promised she wasn't done yet. "There's a lot of room to improve," she said with a smile. "There will be a lot more wins, a lot more medals."

Which is why there's no time to celebrate yet, though. A little rest, a little recovery and up next is the World Championships a fortnight from today: it's a far tougher field, and winning it again remains a top target. As it always does with Indian sport's golden girl: winning is a habit, and few in India do it better than Pusarla Venkata Sindhu.