India cheers first woman to win silver medal

Silver medalist India's Pusarla V. Sindhu celebrates on the podium following the women's singles Gold Medal badminton match at the Riocentro stadium in Rio de Janeiro. (AFP)

India swelled with pride on Saturday after badminton champion P.V. Sindhu became the first woman in the country's history to win an Olympic silver medal.

The shuttler was unable to strike gold but clinched the silver with her aggressive defence as she forced world number one, Carolina Marin of Spain, to three games in the women's singles final on Friday.

Indian newspaper front pages on Saturday led with her historic win, hailing the 21-year-old for boosting the country's Olympic tally which earlier stood at a single medal, female wrestler Sakshi Malik's bronze.

"Thank You," beamed the Indian Express newspaper, describing her victory "as good as gold" while a Times of India headline declared "Sindhu shows silver mettle".

Fans in the badminton star's home city of Hyderabad in southern India took to the streets late Friday, cheering and waving national flags as she was crowned the country's youngest and most successful female Olympian.

In the 120 years of the modern Olympics, Indian women had only won four medals - all of them bronze - before Sindhu wrote herself into the history books by claiming silver on Friday night.

"A young 21-year-old Indian woman showed the way to millions back home, giving them pride and belief that hard work could take them to the top of the world," the Times of India said.

Sindhu's father P.V. Ramana told reporters that his daughter "performed brilliantly" - but added he was slightly disappointed that she didn't take gold.

"A bit disappointed but we are happy with the performance. She made us proud," Ramana was quoted as saying.

State governments, businessmen and sports associations plan to honour their new hero with gifts including plots of land, luxury cars and cash, while advertisers are expected to court the photogenic athlete for product endorsements.

Indian Twitter lit up with messages from fans, celebrities and politicians congratulating Sindhu, who won the first game of the final 21-19 before succumbing in the remaining two for second place.

"Well played India's youngest individual Olympics medal winner. You have won our hearts with the splendid performance," cricketing great Sachin Tendulkar tweeted.

Sindhu declared herself "proud and thankful", telling the ESPN website that she planned to celebrate with "a bit of junk food" after months of gruelling training.

Her achievements bettered that of fellow Indian Saina Nehwal, who won the bronze medal in badminton at the London Games four years ago.

Sindhu and wrestler Malik are India's only two medallists at Rio so far, with no male athletes yet to step on the podium, a disappointing haul for the country of 1.25 billion people.

Talented female athletes have long been neglected in patriarchal India, with men typically receiving the lion's share of attention and resources.

But a gradual change in attitudes has given rise to a generation of successful women - from boxing's Mary Kom to tennis star Sania Mirza - succeeding on the world stage.