Pusarla Sindhu sent Indian fans into a frenzy by blasting through Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara to reach the gold medal decider for the women’s singles at the Olympic badminton on Thursday.
With a huge contingent of home fans roaring “Go India, go!”, the 21-year-old Hyderabadi gradually wore down sixth-ranked Okuhara before charging to an emphatic 21-19 21-10 victory at the Riocentro.
Sindhu will meet Spanish top seed Carolina Marin, who hammered China’s reigning champion Li Xuerui 21-14 21-16 in the early semi-final.
A nation that has never punched its weight at the Olympics, India has had a paltry return at Rio, with only a solitary bronze won by freestyle wrestler Sakshi Malik on Wednesday.
Sindhu must deal with the expectations of a billion people when she heads into a tough decider against the twice world champion Marin.
“It’s not like pressure but it is a big moment for me playing in the final, so it’s just I have to do my best and play my 100 percent game and that’s all I feel,” she told reporters, having secured the country’s second badminton medal following Saina Nehwal’s bronze in the same event in London.
“Of course, (Marin) is a very tough opponent.
“It’s not going to be easy tomorrow because it’s another big final. And she’s really playing well.
“She played brilliantly against Li Xuerui today. So I suggest that tomorrow, who plays well and gives their best is the winner.”
Marin will also have been impressed by the ninth-ranked Indian, who has carried Team India’s hopes since their top singles player Nehwal bowed out of Rio with an injury-hampered loss.
Growing in confidence as the match wore on, Sindhu won 10 consecutive points to close out the match with a barrage of overhead smashes.
She will meet another player with impressive firepower in Marin, who never allowed Li to settle into a rhythm.
“I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. I will give everything I have on the court to get the gold medal that I want so badly,” said the 23-year-old Andalucian.