Chen Yufei was baffled as the passage of play rendered her a pawn in the hands of the World No 5 PV Sindhu.
It was all happening a bit too fast for Yufei. In her straight games defeat, the Chinese was skittled by Sindhu whose court coverage has been impressive throughout this tournament.
It was that kind of a match, where the rallies bore testament to the work that Sindhu has put in her speed.
Pressured by the prospect of regular meetings on the tour against the likes of Akane Yamaguchi and Nozomi Okuhara, both of whom specialise in stretching the rallies and tiring their opponents, it's evident that Sindhu has, over the past couple of years, ramped up her defensive game.
Some detractors have continued to term her movement on the court as ‘not fluid’ and perhaps rightly so as her tall frame can prove to be a disadvantage when subjected to bends and turns at the net while returning drop shots.
Nevertheless, her movement has proved fairly sufficient in keeping up the play until she finds the space she needs to pull out her lethal smashes.
At the World Championships this year, Sindhu has shown why she is arguably now a 360° player, with hardly any weaknesses out there to be exploited, the better defensive game supplementing her naturally attacking play.
Moreover, she seems to have aced the formula of dictating the course of play against her opponents, fishing out shots to her liking which would allow her to pummel her opponent. The smashes which fetch her a bucket-load of points are the end result. But it’s the way she orchestrates the rallies which make up the means to that end.
In her pre-quarter-final match against the USA’s Beiwen Zhang, Sindhu never let up in the exercise of having her opponent pushed to the back of the court. The Indian stayed put at the centre while Zhang was made to cover all corners and repeat, as in a practice drill.
Against Chen Yufei in their semi-final, Sindhu drew upon that approach which had her move past Zhang in just 34 minutes. She would return Yufei’s high-lift serve with a half-smash straying cross-court.
That would draw the lift from the Chinese, the shuttle sitting up perfectly for Sindhu who made it a point to not let the rally fester for too long.
The domineering display from the Indian was such that Yufei could land only one smash for a winner in the first game. Sindhu, on the other hand, didn’t bother to hit her smashes away from her opponent.
Leading 16-4 in the first game, she realised that smashing at the body of Yufei would make for a pleasant sight. A toss from the Chinese from the back of the court was the leeway Sindhu needed to make a bodyline smash.
Her shots split Yufei down the middle, tying her up and not allowing any room to defend. Sindhu won the first game in a jiffy, 21-7 and the match moved along expectedly.
In the second game, it was Yufei’s backhand which came in the line of fire. Staggering backwards, the Chinese did manage to pull out a return but it had already allowed Sindhu the time she needed to advance to the net and swat the shuttle back at her opponent.
It was all going down in emphatic fashion. Sindhu even challenged a couple of calls from the line umpire successfully and her coach Pullela Gopichand chuckled at the turn of events. On-court challenges have long been the Achilles heel for the Indian. It seems like that is going to change this year.
A minor improvement in the score for Yufei had Sindhu closing out the second game, winning the match 21-7, 21-14 in just 40 minutes and moving to the final, hoping not for an encore of the last couple of years where she ended as the runner-up at the World Championships — losing to Spain’s Carolina Marin last year and Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara in 2017 — but looking to get one better and win gold.
That will also serve as good riddance in a year which has been far from what the Indian is accustomed to. Sindhu hasn’t won a title this year, being denied in her only final at the Indonesia Open by Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi.
Hopefully for the Indian, among other things, that too will change come Sunday when she faces Okuhara in the final.
Updated Date: Aug 25, 2019 08:48:16 IST