PV Sindhu's biggest struggle on Sunday was not quelling the challenge of the Chinese shuttler with the short crop hair standing across the net. It was taming her own mind.
Sindhu woke up on Sunday acutely aware of her place in history, and with a restless energy that, try as she might, she just could not control.
"Constantly I was thinking about the bronze medal match later in the day. Kept thinking 'What's going to happen?' I had a lot of things inside me going: 'what if you win?', 'what if you lose?', 'what if you win?', 'what if you lose?'
"You just have to be calm. But that didn't happen for me today," she recollected. "I had to wait the whole day for this bronze medal match. Even when we left for the stadium I had this nervous energy. I kept thinking 'When will the time come, when will the time come?'"
When the time finally came, Sindhu found a reserve of serenity inside her, dispatching He Bing Jiao 21-13, 21-15 in little less than an hour. The victory made her the only Indian woman to win two Olympic medals, her bronze at Tokyo 2020 following her silver from five years ago. It's a select club in a country like India. Only wrestler Sushil Kumar and a clutch of men's hockey players have been granted membership so far.
On Sunday evening, at the Musashino Forest Plaza, Sindhu joined Sushil and Co, with a calculated dismantling of her Chinese rival.
The Indian took the lead early on, with the score reading 5-2 at one point, only to see it being chased down by some relentless badminton from the racquet of Bing Jiao, who levelled at 5-5. The equalling point, in particular, would have made the Chinese shuttler happy. With a half smash on Sindhu's forehand side, she drew the Indian out of position, then placed the shuttle into the backhand side backcourt with effortless ease.
The early exchanges showed that the Chinese shuttler's plan for the Rio Olympics silver medallist included testing her on the net with drop shots. But Sindhu proved to be wily to these tactics, lobbing her returns high and long, using the time to get back into position. Each time the Chinese shuttler started gaining momentum in the form of consecutive points, Sindhu would delay the beginning of the point to interrupt her rival's rhythm.
She then rained down full-blooded smashes on Bing Jiao's backhand side in successive points to lead the first game 11-8 going into the first break of the match.
Try as the Chinese shuttler might, Sindhu kept the distance between them, taking the match from 11-8 to 14-8 to 16-10 to finally 21-13. Her plan was to draw Bing Jiao out of position by hitting to her backhand side and then killing off the point with a one-two punch.
"She's a tricky player. Very deceptive. She's a lefty as well. It was very important for me to stay in the rallies," Sindhu later said.
"She was good. She was taking all my attacking strokes. So, it was very important for me to be patient enough to play the next stroke and be in the match."
Sindhu started the second game brightly, racing to a 5-2 lead, thanks to the Chinese shuttler struggling to get a measure of the drift early on, sending her shuttles wide or long. Bing Jiao finally stopped Sindhu's march with a piece of sublime skill: when Sindhu smashed the shuttle very close to her body, the Chinese lifted it effortlessly across the net for a drop shot.
Sindhu though persisted with the smashes and a few points later sent a particularly murderous one right at Bing Jiao's trachea.
The smash, in essence, was her get-out-of-jail-free card, used each time there was a threat of the rally getting too long or forcing Sindhu into too much play around the net.
Not just brute strength in smashing, Sindhu employed her wrist to rollover the shuttle while in the air and make it drop dead alarmingly for the Chinese shuttler.
By 15-13, even though Bing Jiao was within touching distance of Sindhu, she had started to drag her feet, shoulders slumped visibly.
There were no surprises as Sindhu closed out the match.
"After the match was over, I didn't know what was going on. I didn't know what to say. What to do. It was just mixed emotions. It took me five or six seconds to even shout," Sindhu said later.
Given that she's a rare two-time Olympics medallist from India, obviously she was asked to compare the difficulty she had in earning the two, five years apart.
"Getting a medal here was definitely tougher, " she admitted. "I was very young in 2016. People had no expectations off me. I was like a newcomer. That was comparatively a different experience. This time around the pressure, expectations and responsibility on my shoulders was a lot more."
She though refused to bite when asked about when she starts training in earned for Paris 2024.
"I'm still in the moment, so let me be in that moment for a while," she laughed.