Athletes of the decade: World Champions Sindhu, Mary a cut above the rest

PV Sindhu's gold medal at the 2019 World Championships makes her the second woman, after China's Zhang Ning, with five singles medals at the Worlds to her name. FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images

The 2010s were arguably Indian sport's most successful decade ever as they registered their best ever medal tallies at the Olympics (London, 2012), Asian Games (Jakarta-Palembang, 2018) and Commonwealth Games (Delhi, 2010).

Moreover, India also had its first world champions in wrestling and badminton in the form of Sushil Kumar and PV Sindhu, respectively, this decade. While there were plenty of athletes who notched impressive performances across the decade, who were the five who were a cut above the rest?

1. PV Sindhu

Sindhu had marked herself as a talent to watch out for by winning titles at the Commonwealth Youth Games (2011) and Asian Junior Championships (2012), but she shot into the limelight when she stunned the defending champion and reigning Olympic silver medallist Wang Yihan in the third round of the 2013 World Championships. She went on to win bronze in that edition and has medalled at every edition of the tournament since then, barring 2015. Her five Worlds medals are easily the most for any singles player this decade.

She also won silver in her maiden appearance at the Olympics in 2016, in the process becoming the youngest Indian to medal at the Games, as well as the first Indian woman to win Olympic silver. Her greatest achievement came earlier this year, when she stormed to the Worlds title after defeating world No. 1 Tai Tzu Ying and former champion Nozomi Okuhara. She also won the women's singles title at the inaugural World Tour Finals in 2018, putting an emphatic full stop to her streak of seven final losses.

2. MC Mary Kom

Mary is that rare Indian athlete who has managed to stay on top of her sport for almost two decades. She won gold at the inaugural World Championships for women in 2002 and by the end of this decade, her eight medals (six golds, one silver, one bronze) are the most by any boxer (male or female) at the tournament.

She also medalled at the London Olympics, the first time that women's boxing was a part of the Olympics, and also won golds at the Asian and Commonwealth Games this decade. Neither age nor motherhood has slowed her down as she stood on the podium again at this year's Worlds after winning bronze.

3. Saina Nehwal

Before Sindhu, there was Saina. Saina shot to prominence in the latter half of the previous decade but even as most of her contemporaries either retired or faded as the decade wore on, she continued to remain a force to be reckoned with.

After becoming the first Indian to win a badminton medal at the Olympics in 2012, she also became the first Indian woman to be ranked world No. 1 in 2015. She won two medals (a silver and a bronze) at the Worlds besides winning the singles gold at the Commonwealth Games in 2010 and 2018, which made her only the second woman to win two singles golds at the tournament.

It is Saina's consistency that marks her as a standout -- her tally of women's singles Superseries titles (as they were known in the badminton tour's previous tournament structure) is only exceeded by four other women. No woman spent more weeks in the top 10 in the world rankings than Saina this decade, despite her injury concerns in the latter stages of the decade.

4. Sushil Kumar

While the second half of the decade was pockmarked by controversies for Sushil, he was arguably India's most successful athlete in the first half as he became the first Indian to win two individual medals at the Olympics post-independence in 2012. He also gave India its first world champion in wrestling when he won the 66kg title in Moscow in 2010.

He won gold at every edition of the Commonwealth Games in this decade besides winning gold at the Asian Championships and Commonwealth Championships.

5. Sunil Chhetri

Captain, leader, legend! Chhetri has been at the heart of most of Indian football's highlights in the last decade. Chhetri scored 53 goals from 82 matches for India, which gave him a better goals-per-game percentage (64.6 percent) than even Lionel Messi.

While the quality of opposition that both men face is vastly different, Chhetri was instrumental in India qualifying for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup as the team topped their group in the qualifiers. He's also the joint-second highest goalscorer in international games among currently active players, behind Cristiano Ronaldo.

However, his best performances have come for Bengaluru FC, whom he has led to two I-League and one ISL title since first playing for the club in 2013-14. He also did the star turn when BFC became the first Indian club to reach the final of the AFC Cup in 2016, scoring two goals in the semi-final against Johor.