As she warms up on court, stretching her long limbs, you get a feeling that P.V. Sindhu is in the wrong sport. She's just 15 but she's already 5'11, and still growing.
She would have been a blessing for Indian basketball, but instead of aiming at the hoop, the young girl decided to chase ‘birds' very early in life. And she's proving to be a big blessing for badminton.
Sindhu, the junior National champion from Secunderabad, won her maiden international women's title at the Maldives Challenge last week. And on Thursday, her women's world ranking shot up by 58 spots — from the previous week's 203 to 145.
But she's made for bigger things, says Thomas John, a former British coach who had coached Gopi Chand, in England, and Saina Nehwal earlier.
“Sindhu could be a bigger force than Saina. She has good height, good temperament and she's not flustered when she's playing anybody,” said the Indian-born Thomas, at the Rajiv Gandhi indoor stadium here on Friday.
Six years ago, Thomas had predicted that Saina — then just 15 — would be a bigger star than Gopi Chand. He had said that the young girl, who was just beginning to make it on the senior national stage, would be a world-beater.
And now, he has bet it big on Sindhu.
“She's just 15 but she's already beginning to make a mark in the women's circuit. Age is just a number in her case,” said Thomas, who is now coaching youngsters in Lucknow.
Thomas had coached Sindhu, along with Saina, at Gopi Chand's Academy in Gachibowli, Hyderabad, for about two years.
“She was around 12 and a wispy little girl then,” said Thomas. “I used to take her for tournaments. Sometimes, she used to literally collapse in exhaustion.”
But now Sindhu is a lot stronger and brimming with confidence too.
“I want to be the World No. 1 one day,” said the young girl, the women's singles bronze medalist at the Indian Grand Prix in Hyderabad in December.
“Saina is a powerhouse, bursting with energy,” said Thomas. “Sindhu is more wily; she's more like the Aparna Popat type of player.”
Along with a wonderful reach, her tall frame also offers her a huge advantage, especially when it comes to smashes which can come from a very steep angle.
But some feel her height could be a disadvantage while diving and while handling drops.
In her genes
“Height is a handicap if you do not work on certain areas,” explained Thomas. “Sindhu can be very strong as she grows up. She has got it in her genes.”
Her parents were both volleyball players.
Her dad, international P.V. Ramana, was a centre-blocker in the Indian team — a side which included the great Jimmy George — which won the Asian Games bronze in Seoul in 1986, the country's last medal in the sport at the Games.
And her mother Vijaya who studied at Chennai's Vaishnav College, is a former Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh star.
So how does it feel for a 15-year-old to be in a women's world?
“When I play tournaments, I go with a free mind,” said Sindhu, a former Asian junior (under-16) bronze medallist.
“Whenever I play a seeded girl, I don't think I'm going to lose. I just see that I play my best.”
That positive attitude saw her trouble many players in the World's top 50, including two on her way to the Maldives title.
Sindhu needs to work on her leg strength and on her defence. And there will be plenty of hurdles before her.
Thankfully, age is on her side.