For Pusarla Venkata Sindhu, the treadmill just never seems to stop or slow down to jogging pace. Ever mid-October 2017, the 22-year-old shuttler has not had the time to rest and recoup.
Observe her four-month long breathless schedule, which has only had commas, but neither semi-colons nor full stops, and you would realise the pressure she has had to go through. She has had to contend with Superseries tournaments in Denmark and France, followed by the Indian Nationals in Nagpur, then the Far Eastern circuit, with championships in China and Hong Kong, the year-ending Superseries Finals in Dubai, the three-week long Premier Badminton League (PBL) that ended in mid-January, the Malaysia and Indonesia Masters, the Indian Open, and now the Asia Team Championships.
Put succinctly, Sindhu’s name has figured on the starters’ list in 11 tournaments in the course of 16 weeks, including one competition that stretched over 23 days, and involved travelling all over India. Each and every other player among the top 15 in the world had taken some time off to allow their aching bodies some respite and to recharge their batteries. But not ‘superwoman’ Sindhu.
The rangy Hyderabadi was at the forefront of the Indian challenge in the Asia Team Championships, being played at Alor Setar, in the north-western part of peninsular Malaysia, making her appearance at the Sultan Abdul Halim Stadium barely 36 hours after the conclusion of the India Open, where she ended runners-up to Chinese-born American, Zhang Beiwen.
In the absence of Saina Nehwal, who had pulled out from the competition citing exhaustion, Sindhu was forced to don two hats – get on the court for the paired event, in addition to her usual singles venture. And the icing on the cake was the fact that she pulled off victories in both her matches, to allow India pip Hong Kong 3-2 in their opening match in Group W of the team competition.
Sindhu opened proceedings with a relatively facile 21-12, 21-18 win over Hong Kong’s top player, Yip Pui Yin, who had been seeded seventh in the India Open last week. The Indian looked in some trouble in the second game when Yip kept pace with her until 15-all, but then, Sindhu floored the gas pedal, and won the game three points ahead of her opponent.
India took the gamble of prising N Sikki Reddy away from her regular partner Ashwini Ponnappa and pairing her with her fellow-Andhraite, Sindhu. Ponnappa was handed the task of playing the first doubles in the company of Prajakta Sawant against Ng Wing Yung and Yeung Nga Ting, and was desperately unlucky to end up on the losing side of a 52-minute contest in which there was nothing to separate the two pairs in the first two games. The Hong Kong pair won 20-22, 22-20, 21-10.
India had more dreadful luck when Sri Krishna Priya Kudaravalli, making her debut in the team competition, played well above her normal level, and actually held a match-point at 20-19 in the third game against Cheung Ying Mei. Alas, she could not convert that position into a triumph, and was beaten at 19-21, 21-18, 20-22 in a 66-minute battle royal that saw some really nervous shots from both players at the fag end of the duel.
With India trailing 1-2, and needing to win both the remaining two matches, Sindhu re-entered the arena in the company of Sikki Reddy, and played the hatchet role in a 21-15, 15-21, 21-14 win over Ng Tsz Yau and Yuen Sin Ying. Reddy was rock-solid at the net, and created the openings for Sindhu to finish the rallies with her power smashes. The scores were tied at 2-2.
With India not fielding Tanvi Lad, PC Thulasi or Rituparna Das in the third singles, it was left to the talented Ruthvika Shivani Gadde to apply the finishing touches to the Indian effort with a come-from-behind 16-21, 21-16, 21-13 victory over Yeung Sum Yee in two minutes shy of the hour mark. Ruthvika displayed exemplary temperament, fighting spirit and physical fitness in this crunch encounter.
However, for India, sterner battles lie ahead, for Japan looms on the horizon. With World No 2, Akane Yamaguchi, and reigning world champion, Nozomi Okuhara, spearheading their singles challenge, and with three of the world’s top eight women’s doubles pairs in their ranks, the Japanese are going to be extremely hard to beat.
The India-Japan clash will take place on Thursday, after the Japanese have had a chance to stretch their legs against Hong Kong on the morrow.
In the other round-robin pools, Chinese Taipei flexed their muscles in Group X while scoring an effortless 5-0 win over Maldives, but will have South Korea to worry about on Thursday. Thailand and Malaysia started their campaigns in Group Y with comfortable 5-0 and 4-1 wins over the Philippines and Vietnam respectively, and Indonesia scored an equally straightforward 5-0 win over Singapore in Group Z. The Indonesians will clash with favourites China in their final group match on Thursday.
In the men’s team competition, India and Indonesia hardly put a foot wrong while beating the Philippines and Maldives respectively, by identical 5-0 margins. Despite resting HS Prannoy (ostensibly to allow an extra day for his foot corns to heal) and the strong men’s doubles combination of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty, the Indians did not drop a single game while giving the hapless Filipinos a comprehensive thrashing.
Kidambi Srikanth opened with a 21-11, 21-12 triumph over Ros Leonard Pedrosa; Manu Attri and B Sumeeth Reddy followed with a 21-15, 21-13 win over Carlos Antonie Cayanan and Philip Joper Escueta; and B Sai Praneeth had it even easier against Arthur Samuel Salvado, and won 21-6, 21-10.
The stand-in Indian doubles team of Shlok Ramchandran and MR Arjun were given a decent workout by Peter Gabriel Magnaye and Alvin Morada for their 21-18, 21-17 verdict; and Sameer Verma rounded off the tally by scoring a 21-15, 21-12 victory over Lanz Ralf Zafra.
The Indians are unlikely to be troubled by Maldives on Wednesday, but will have to be on their mettle when they bump into powerful Indonesia in their final group match on Thursday.
The Indonesians, led by Anthony Sinisuka Ginting, who recently won his first World Tour title at the Indonesia Masters, and the world’s best doubles duo of Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo, are likely to challenge the Indians every inch of the way. Of course, they will only be jockeying for positions in the group, for two teams from each group will go through to the quarter-finals on Friday, and India and Indonesia are the favourites to make the cut from their group.
Updated Date: Feb 07, 2018 10:22 AM