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Why PV Sindhu is India's new hope for ending Chinese domination

The Chinese must be dreading the sight of PV Sindhu. If there were any doubt in their mind about the potential of the lanky Hyderabadi, it would have been cleared with the way the Asian Junior champion packed off defending world champion Yihan Wang in her own backyard on Thursday in just their second meeting ever.

The first time Sindhu and Yihan met a few months ago at the Sudirman Cup mixed team championship, the 18-year-old Indian had pushed the defending world champion to three games despite a dodgy knee.

The youngster had taken the court only because Saina Nehwal had pulled out of the tournament because of a toe fracture and it was difficult to judge whether the experienced Chinese needed time to read Sindhu’s game or the Indian was really close to creating an upset in their very first meeting.

PV Sindhu in this file photo. PTI

PV Sindhu in this file photo. PTI

After all Yihan had created an aura around herself for the Indians as she was the only Chinese player the all-conquering Saina Nehwal has never beaten in a full match. The only time Saina got the better of Yihan in their seven meetings was when the latter conceded the Denmark Super Series Premier semi-final in October last year due to a knee injury that troubled her for another three months.

But that shield of invincibility was broken on Thursday as Sindhu displayed a great mix of aggression and nerves to outclass the London Olympics silver medallist in straight games to reach the quarter-finals of the BWF world badminton championship.

The victory is all the more special as this is Sindhu’s maiden appearance in the prestigious event and the pressure will now be well and truly on seventh seed Wang Shixian of China in the quarterfinals.

For the record, Sindhu heads into the game with a 1-0 head-to-head record against the Chinese, whom she had defeated in a marathon encounter at the Badminton Asia Championship in April after facing a match point against her.

But more than the head-to-head record against Shixian, the real worrying factor for the Chinese camp will be Sindhu’s ability to raise her level when she is facing a Chinese opponent.

The Malaysian GP Gold champion has made a habit of dominating the Chinese over the last year and has won five of her last seven meetings against players from the badminton powerhouse. And the ever smiling youngster began all this with a convincing win over Li Xuerui, who was playing in her very first tournament after conquering the London Olympic gold.

Since then the Chinese have thrown players of different body types and styles of play but the 18-year-old has managed to get the better of most of them.

So the real challenge for Sindhu in her quarter-final encounter against Shixian would not be the stature of her opponent but how she manages to relax and recover physically and mentally before the match. In the past, Sindhu has failed to build on a major victory. By her own admission nerves have got the better of her as she begins to feel the weight of expectations on her young shoulders.

This is precisely why chief national coach Pullela Gopichand preferred to sidestep any questions about the next encounter and insisted that his current focus was to only ensure that Sindhu gets ample rest before the quarter-finals.

But the Chinese coaches will definitely not enjoy a good night's sleep.