Rio Olympics
To understand the dynamics of the Sindhu-Gopichand combo, you need to grasp chess.
Gopichand with Sindhu after she won her badminton women’s singles semis at Rio Olympics; PTI

On 18 February this year, PV Sindhu lost for the third time in her career to Nozomi Okuhara of Japan in three games before her home crowd in Hyderabad at the Badminton Asia Team championship. Exactly six months later, on Thursday evening, in a big ticket semi-final, Sindhu avenged Hyderabad in Rio de Janeiro.

But the fact that the win-loss record was skewed in Okuhara's favour did not perturb Sindhu. A fresh day, a fresh court and a fresh approach meant Sindhu turned the tables on the All-England champion, giving her a run for the bird.

India had taken wings. 

Shooter Abhinav Bindra, the only Indian Olympian ever to win a gold medal, tweeted to Sindhu that he is waiting for some company in the lonely club. 

But even as the chorus `Go for Gold' gains in decibel level in the run-up to Friday's final, almost as if it is Akshaya Tritiya, Carolina Marin of Spain must be sitting smug. The World number one stands between Sindhu and the prized medal, determined to stall India's leap to strike gold. 

Make no mistake about it, Marin is a very tough customer. Her grunts are Monica Seles-que and the manner in which she briskly moves around court, the Spaniard is an intimidating presence. Coach Pullela Gopichand will have to focus as much on strategy to neutralise Marin's strong points as much to work on Sindhu's willpower, to ensure she does not wilt in the face of some aggressive play and psychological sledging.  

Riocentro Pavilion will be a test of the 21-year-old shuttler's character.

"I have a plan in mind. We need to put it into action,'' said Gopi in Rio. The duo watched the first semi-final between Marin and China's Li Xuerui on television and has a fair idea of what to expect on Friday. Marin has a 4-3 win-loss record against Sindhu, which gives the Indian who stands tall at 5'11 a fair chance to crack the Olympics on debut. 

Before the team left for Rio, it was Saina Nehwal as the senior professional who was seen as a medal prospect. An unfortunate knee injury put paid to those hopes. It is almost a cruel twist of fate that on the day Sindhu was playing the most important match in her life, Saina was hospitalised in Hyderabad. Seeing how her younger teammate has battled players ranked higher than her, Saina - who never gives up without a fight - would be proud of Sindhu. 

Gopichand, for the extremely meticulous manner in which he has trained Sindhu, is confident she has the technical ammunition in her armoury to give Marin a fight. But he gives a glimpse into how nerve racking it has been for him when he admits to have spent several sleepless nights at Rio. 

To understand the dynamics of the Sindhu-Gopichand combo, you need to grasp chess. Sindhu is the player on court but Gopi as the mastermind of her every move on the badminton chessboard, has the responsibility to ensure she does not get checkmated at any point. Sindhu is the face, Gopi is the brain. He only has to raise his eyebrow or show his palm for Sindhu to know what he wants to be done next. 

Ask Sindhu or any other player at the Academy and they will tell you that Gopi Sir's pointed stare is worth a thousand words.

It is very rare that one sees a player's family give all credit to the coach. Especially since the player is seen as the achiever on court. But Sindhu's parents, extremely gracious, did precisely that. An indication of the gratitude they felt and acknowledgement of the effort put in by Gopi in mentoring Sindhu and more particularly, in the run-up to Rio. Both PV Ramana and P Vijaya have represented India in volleyball and know what it takes to create a champion. Not many know that among other things, Gopi lost 7 kg, training hard, with Sindhu and Srikanth, through the first half of 2016.

Knowing Gopi, irrespective of the metal of the medal Sindhu wins, he is unlikely to set her free on a holiday. "Three to four days maximum,'' said Vijaya, Sindhu's mother. She is eager to feed her daughter Hyderabadi biryani and Mysore pak, two delicacies the shuttler loves, when she returns. 

Before she left for Rio, Sindhu prayed at the Mahakali temple in Hyderabad during the Bonalu jatara, a festival indigenous to Telangana. And since she has been in Brazil, her parents have been doing the rounds of different temples, seeking divine blessings for Sindhu. Vijaya when asked what she and Ramana will do till the final on Friday evening said, in a very charming tone, ``Go to temples, pray, watch the match and see her win.''

In 2012, before Gopichand and Saina left for the London Olympics, I remember asking him if he dreamed about the event.

"Yes, I do.''

"Do you remember your dreams?''

"I dream consciously,'' he replied and laughed.

"And what's that?''

"The thought that the Indian flag is going high and the medal is coming.''

After London Dreams, Gopi gets to live his dream a second time. 

Also read: 

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Sindhu would cry if we missed a day's practice, say proud parents celebrating in Hyderabad

I'll give my heart for gold says PV Sindhu. You go, girl!