TOKYO: India's P V Sindhu hits a shot to Denmark's Mia Blichfeldt in their women's singles badminton round of 16 match during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Musashino Forest Sports Plaza yesterday. - AFP

TOKYO: India's badminton superstar P V Sindhu is carrying the hopes of her country's 1.3 billion people, but meditation is helping her stay calm in the eye of the storm. The 26-year-old world champion, who won silver at the 2016 Rio Games, would become only the second Indian ever to win an individual Olympic gold if she triumphs this week in Tokyo.

With Rio champion Carolina Marin of Spain absent with a serious knee injury, Sindhu has as good a chance as any in an open field. She booked her place in the quarter-finals with a 21-15, 21-13 win over Denmark's Mia Blichfeldt yesterday, then revealed her secret for shutting out external noise. "I meditate at times, so I think that keeps my mind calm and keeps me going," she said. "We see a lot of things happening on social media everywhere. Sometimes to let go of everything I just meditate for a bit."

Mental health has been in the spotlight at the Tokyo Games, with American gymnast Simone Biles pulling out of the team and all-around individual events to preserve her wellbeing. Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka has also struggled with her mental health, taking two months away from the sport before returning in Tokyo.

Sindhu said she was "nobody to comment" on what others are going through, but explained how she navigates the expectations of the world's second-most populous country. "It's always there - the pressure, the responsibility," she said. "I'm sure a lot of people are expecting a lot, but for me, when I go out onto the court I just have to give my best. I shouldn't think about what people are thinking - If I think about that, that would add extra pressure."

Sindhu needed just 41 minutes to dispatch number 13 seed Blichfeldt and book her place in the last eight. "I'm not thinking about playing in the final," said Sindhu. "The important thing is what is tomorrow. I'm just focusing on that. Yes, I got a medal at the last Olympics, but this is a fresh start." In mixed doubles, China's Wang Yilu and Huang Dongping will play their compatriots Zheng Siwei and Huang Yaqiong in Friday's final. - AFP