IN THEORY, it should have been an easy match for Pusarla Venkata Sindhu.
It was March, and the first round of the India Open, one of the Badminton World Federation’s elite Super Series tournaments, was underway. Sindhu, the world’s fifth-ranked player and an Olympic silver medallist, was pitted against the one-hundred-and-fifty-second-ranked Arundhati Pantawane. Twenty-seven-year-old Pantawane had won the gold medal at the Indian National Games in 2011, and her world ranking had peaked at number 40 in 2014, before a knee injury forced her to take 18 months off. She had made a comeback in July last year, and was playing well, but the 21-year-old Sindhu was fitter, six inches taller, in better form and a technically stronger player.
Yet, it was Pantawane who first opened up a lead. Sindhu started with a few careless errors, and after a long, nervous rally, suddenly found herself 1–4 down.