Rio de Janeiro: P V Sindhu's gallant attempt to win a coveted gold medal for India ended in heart-break when she went down fighting against Spain's Carolina Marin and settled for a silver medal in the women's singles badminton competition at the Rio Olympics here Friday.
The 21-year-old Indian, who has been simply unstoppable in the tournament so far, crumbled under the tremendous pressure created by the two-time World Champion from Spain to lose 21-19, 12-21, 15-21 in a high-intensity final that lasted for an hour and 23 minutes at the Riocentre here.
Sindhu thus became the fourth Indian to win a silver at the Olympics after shooters Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore (2004, Athens) and Vijay Kumar (2012, London) and wrestler Sushil Kumar (2012, London).
The two-time World championship bronze medallist also became the fifth woman player from India to win a medal in Olympics history and the first to clinch a silver. She is also the youngest India to win a medal at the Olympics.
Weightlifter Karnam Malleshwari (2000, Sydney), boxer MC Mary Kom (2012, London), shuttler Saina Nehwal (2012, London) and wrestler Sakshi Malik (Rio, 2016) are the other women players from India to clinch a medal in the quadrennial sports spectacle.
Sindhu, in fact, trailed 16-19 in the opening game before reeling off five straight points to clinch it. She was then outclassed in the second to lose it tamely.
In the decider, the lanky shuttler from Hyderabad trailed 1-6 at one stage and caught up at 10-10 but could not keep the tempo after the short break as Marin simply changed gears to surge to Spain's first gold medal in badminton.
In their last five meetings in the last two years, Marin has beaten Sindhu four times with the Indian gaining an upper hand during the Denmark Super Series last year, but today she could not repeat the feat.
The hyper-aggressive Marin mixed power with precision to dominate the rallies with her acute-angled smashes interspersed with clever drops to catch the Indian often on the wrong-foot.
Sindhu struggled with the length of her strokes as gave away many points by hitting long and wide but she fought tooth and nail till the end only to come second best.
In the opening game, the Spaniard grabbed a 11-8 lead at the interval. Sindhu could not vary the pace of the rallies even as Marin came with some razor-sharp net play to extend the lead to 15-11 at one stage.
A net error and a long shot gave Sindhu two points to narrow the gap and kept breathing down the neck of the Spaniard till 15-17.
Sindhu, then, engaged Marin in an engrossing rally and grabbed a point with Marin hitting the 'bird' out. The Indian lost a video referrel to allow Marin open up a two-point lead again at 18-16. A short lift by Sindhu was converted into a winner as Marin led 19-16.
Marin hit two wide shots and also struggled with a net dribble as Sindhu clawed back to 19-19 and then grabbed the lead for the first time when Marin found the net.
Sindhu then made an exceptional return and pushed the shuttle to the back court which the Spaniard failed to return and the Indian girl let out a war cry having won the game from a losing position.
Stung to the quick the ever-yelling Marin came up with cylinders blazing in the second game and surged to a 4-0 lead. Sindhu could not drew her rival into rallies and also struggled with her forehand flicks as Marin entered the break with a massive 11-2 lead.
After the interval, Sindhu tried to break Marin's rhythm but the Spaniard was always a step ahead as she dominated the rallies and came up with some surgical cross court slices and smashes to lead 17-9.
Sindhu was erratic with her stokes and it was one such down-the-line smash that took Marin to 19-12. An over-the-head return from the baseline helped the Spanish girl reach game point and she sealed it next with a drop to the forecourt.
Marin continued to dominate the rallies with her speed and accuracy in the decider, blowing holes in Sindhu's defence to lead 6-1.
The Indian grabbed a few points with a cross-court return, a down-the-line smash and a backhand flick from over the head. Marin also gifted a couple of points by finding the the net as Sindhu closed down the lead to 8-9.
A long shot by Sindhu was followed by a body smash before the Indian closed a long rally in her favour to draw parity at 10-10. Marin, however, once again entered the break with a slender 11-10 lead.
Marin extended the lead to 14-10 but a fighting Sindhu never gave up and narrowed the gap to 14-16 with the Spaniard committed some unforced errors.
In the end, a superb cross court drop caught Sindhu off guard as Marin reached match point at 201-4. The Indian saved one when her rival hit long but she failed to negotiate a return off the next as Marin screamed her heart out and sprawled on the court.
Japan's Nozomi Okuhara bagged the bronze medal after London Olympic champion Li Xuerui pulled out with a knee injury that she suffered during the semifinal match against Marin yesterday.
In men's singles, Malaysia's Lee Chong Wei set up a summit clash with China's Chen Long after exorcising the ghosts of the last two Olympic finals with a hard-fought win over long-time nemesis Lin Dan 15-21, 21-11, 22-20 in the semifinal encounter.