Testing Times for Sindhu

sindhu

PV Sindhu needs to shed the ‘Eternal Bridesmaid’ tag and go for the gold

By Adarsh Vinay

After the success of Saina Nehwal in world badminton circuit, things looked to go the way India witnessed in Lon Tennis after tasting success through Sania Mirza and the duo of Mahesh Bhupati and Leander Paes because there doesn’t seemed any Indian girl putting her legs into the Saina Nehwal’s shoes. However, Indians didn’t have to wait too long. PV Sindhu emerged with series of success at global badminton tournaments. On some occasions, she even outperformed Saina Nehwala, which was a sign of an emerging star from a nation, which was witnessing the fade out of its previous ace shuttler.

Sindhu came to international attention when she broke into the top 20 of the BWF World Ranking in September 2012 at the age of 17. In 2013, she became the first ever Indian women’s singles player to win a medal at the Badminton World Championships. In March 2015, she is the recipient of India’s fourth highest civilian honor, the Padma Shri. Her silver medal win in the women’s singles event of the 2016 Summer Olympics made her the first Indian shuttler to reach the final of an Olympics badminton event and the youngest Indian to make a podium finish in an individual event at the Olympics. She is one among the top five shuttlers in women’ s singles category.

The script is getting painfully familiar with each passing tournament. India’s ace shuttler PV Sindhu gives everything she’s got, she dominates the affair, looks superior, even leads at crucial junctures, only to give up feebly in the end, and settle for second place.

It’s always been the same story. The final of the 2016 Olympics in Rio, the World Championship last year followed by the Dubai World Series and this year, at the India Open.

Things got worse last week at the All-England Championships where she didn’t even make the final. Having made her maiden semifinal appearance, she went down fighting to Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi.

The 22-year-old had started the tournament strongly, fighting back from a game down to win the opening round against Thailand’s Pornpawee Chochuwong. She then ousted world no. 11 Nitchaon Jindapol in a tricky second-round clash before facing Rio bronze medalist and World Champion Nozomi Okuhara in the quarterfinals.

It was another pulsating affair with Sindhu eventually triumphing 20-22, 21-18, 21-18, despite trailing 12-16 in the final game. It was a matter of keeping her nerves and with this result, she leveled it 5-5 in head-to-head meetings with Okuhara.

After the win, Sindhu admitted that it was a close affair. “Playing against Okuhara is not easy. Both of us know each other’s game and we have now played 10 times. It is just that we give our best in our games. You need to be consistent and wait until the last minute. Even if you hit the shuttle down, you can’t think the point is over. You need to be ready till the shuttle hits the ground.”

But the valiant win did not come to much as she succumbed 21-19, 19-21, 18-21 in the semis to Okuhara’s compatriot Yamaguchi. “It was just not my day. I gave my 100 percent. There are always ups and downs and one should win and one should lose. There were long rallies and she played well. Playing a three-game tie is not easy. Just two-three points made the huge difference in the end as it was anybody’s game. I have a lot of things to learn from this tournament. You keep losing and winning but it was a good tournament and I have to come back stronger.”

The case in point here is that PV Sindhu who stands at 5 feet 11 inches struggled against both her Japanese opponents who are 10 and 9 inches shorter than her respectively. The fact that both matches went to the final game also talks about their game plan to extend rallies and tire Sindhu out. While Sindhu has worked on her fitness and stamina and can last the three games unlike 2-3 years ago, she still loses steam towards the end, dropping crucial points and eventually relinquishing the tie to her opponents.

What Sindhu needs to do is use her height to her advantage. Both Okuhara and Yamaguchi move quickly and prefer playing at the back of the court. What Sindhu should do is force the play at the net and close out rallies quickly. She can also vary the pace on her retrievals as both her opponents prefer long rallies where they depend on fast returns to keep the tempo going.

Her former national coach Vimal Kumar had a few words of advice. Talking to TOI, he said, “She must develop deceptive, faster clears, sharp drop shots and clips to pin the shuttle down. She also has to work on the deceptive half smashes on the run to the back. Sindhu has a bigger hit than other girls but it can fetch points only when she finds the lines consistently. She will be more effective and efficient against these defensive girls only if she works out a fine combination of these strokes.”

Sindhu realizes this flaw in her game and admits that she needs to work on it. “There have been matches where I led 20-18 and have then gone on to lose the match. Even today, the first game was similar. I was a bit nervous, but I didn’t want to think it was over till the last minute. I tend to lose points and my confidence and I get nervous. I used to just let it go thinking it is over. I have been practicing to avoid it and I think it is getting better. I have lost matches where I am leading. I know physically and mentally at times when you lose such matches it hits you, but we have to come back stronger to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.”

Next up for Sindhu is the upcoming Commonwealth Games in Australia where she will be India’s flag bearer. She is one of India’s biggest medal hopes and will look to better the bronze medal she won at the 2014 Glasgow event. With China and Japan not part of the Commonwealth, Sindhu’s stiffest competition could be her compatriot Saina Nehwal. It remains to be seen which of the two emerges triumphant.