Rio Olympics silver medallist Pusarla Venkata Sindhu suffered a rare mental meltdown in the Dubai Superseries badminton grand finals on Thursday. Inexplicably poor tactics cost her a vital Group B women’s singles tie against Chinese spearhead Sun Yu, whom she had beaten convincingly in front of the latter’s home crowd in the China Open last month.
Sindhu’s 49-minute, 15-21, 17-21 reverse meant that Sun Yu qualified for the play-off semifinals, regardless of the result of her final group match against Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi. The Chinese No 3 seed had managed to slay the Olympic gold and silver medallists on successive days, producing the finest brace of results of her international career thus far.
Sindhu must have found it hard to take the trouncing she received at Sun Yu’s hands, barely a month after beating her convincingly at 21-11, 17-21, 21-11 at the 2016 China Open. But the Pullela Gopichand Academy trainee had no one to blame but herself, as she made the cardinal mistake of not adjusting her tactics according to her opponent’s abilities.
On Wednesday, she had used her height and reach to drag Yamaguchi from side to side, employing steep half-smashes to the flanks, followed by deep crosscourt clears off the blocked returns. This strategy worked well against the diminutive Japanese, one of the shortest girls on the circuit, and allowed Sindhu to power back into the match after losing the opening game without much ado.
The ploy simply did not work against Sun Yu, who at 1.83 metres, is arguably the tallest woman singles player currently on the international badminton circuit. The third seed had little trouble reaching all of Sindhu’s steep smashes and half-smashes to the flanks, and producing effective blocks to pull the Indian to the net.
Sun Yu was generally the superior player at the net with her tight dribbles and readiness to tap the shuttle, even if it rose a couple of inches above the tape. The wily Chinese player also attacked Sindhu on her body, rather than hitting to her flanks, where the Indian has little difficulty in retrieving the bird. The Hyderabadi lost several points to her inability to return shots directed at her midriff.
Although heavily strapped on both knees, Sun Yu showed no discomfort in moving around the court with alacrity, and exploited Sindhu’s starting trouble to power away to a 7-3 lead before going into the lemon break at 11-8. Coach Chen Jin could be observed indicating to his ward that she should hit or push the shuttle as close to her opponent’s body as possible, when she got a short return.
Aided by a slew of poor line judgments, particularly at the baseline, Sindhu saw her rival’s lead enlarge to 19-9 before she revealed signs of a fightback. As Carolina Marin had done on the previous day, with a reel of eight points from 13-20 down, Sindhu managed six aces in a row to claw back to 15-20 before surrendering the opening game at 15-21.
It seemed as if the Indian had got her range right, as she dominated the initial rallies in the second game to move from 5-5 to 9-6, and then to 11-8 at the breather, with the Chinese player looking out of breath. Miraculously, Sun Yu got her second wind, and began moving Sindhu around the court and finishing off the weak returns with well-directed smashes to the body.
In a trice, the 11-14 deficit had been whittled down until it was all square at 15-all; and, when Sun Yu edged ahead 16-15 for the first time in the game, the tension was apparent on Sindhu’s visage. With the bit now firmly between her teeth, the No 3 seed was in full control of the residual exchanges in the match, and wrapped it up at 21-17, to gain sweet revenge for her China Open defeat at Sindhu’s hands.
Nevertheless, all is not lost for Sindhu, thanks to another seismic shock that ripped through Group B, late on Thursday evening. The pint-sized Yamaguchi produced a stubborn, dogged performance to wear down Marin by a 18-21, 21-17, 21-14 scoreline, to throw the group wide open.
The result meant that Sindhu, Marin and Yamaguchi, all have a chance of becoming the second player in the group to join Sun Yu in the last four. The permutations and combinations are numerous, and immensely complicated:
If Sindhu beats Marin, and Sun Yu knocks out Yamaguchi, the Indian will get into the semifinal without the need to pull out a calculator. She will end up second in the group with two victories and a defeat behind the Chinese player’s three wins, and earn the right to take on the winner of Group A in the last-four stage. Yamaguchi will exit the tournament after a third spot in the group with a solitary win, while winless Marin will end up in the cellar.
If Sindhu beats Marin, and Yamaguchi beats Sun Yu, three players will end up with two wins each at the top of the group, while Marin goes out of the tournament. There will then be a countback of games won against games lost; and in the event of a tie in that department, the vote will go to the player who has won more games.
Sun Yu: She already has four games in her satchel without the loss of a single game; and even if she loses to the Japanese in straight games, she will have a 4-2 (ie +2) net scoreline. If she loses in three games, she will be 5-2 (ie +3). Her position is impregnable, in either instance.
Sindhu: If Sindhu beats Marin in two games, her net scoreline will be 4-3 (ie +1). If it is a three-game victory, her net result will be 4-4 (ie zero). In either case, her position is inferior to that of Sun Yu.
Yamaguchi: If the Japanese player beats Sun Yu in straight games, her net score will be 5-3 (ie +2). If she makes it in three games, the net result will be 5-4 (+1). Her position is either equal or inferior to that of Sun Yu, but superior to that of Sindhu.
It all means that, if Yamaguchi wins against her Chinese rival in straight games (for a +2 result), Sindhu will be eliminated on countback, even if she beats Marin in two games (+1 result) If the Japanese beats Sun Yu in three games, she gets a 5-4 (+1) net result, which Sindhu can match if she beats Marin in two games, ie 4-3 (+1). But, having won one game more, Yamaguchi edges Sindhu out.
In short, therefore, if Yamaguchi manages to win against Sun Yu any which way, Sindhu will be eliminated even if she beats Marin. The Indian thus has to pray that Sun Yu produces a winning performance against the Japanese player.
If Marin beats Sindhu, and Sun Yu beats Yamaguchi, the Chinese player obtains three victories without a defeat and tops the group. The remaining three players end up tied with one victory against two defeats each. Once again, the calculators will carry the day to determine the second player to go through to the semifinals.
Sindhu: If she loses to Marin in two games, her games won versus games lost score will be 2-5 (-3). If she is bested by Marin in three games, her net score will be 3-5 (-2).
Yamaguchi: If she loses to Sun Yu in straight games, her net score will be 3-5 (-2), while if she takes at least one game in a loss to the China player, her score will be 4-5 (-1).
Marin: If the Spaniard beats Sindhu in two games, her net score will be 3-4 (-1), since she lost to Sun Yu in straight games, and to Yamaguchi in three. If Marin takes three games to knock out her Indian rival, her final score will be 3-5 (-2).
Sindhu’s position is the most vulnerable of all the three players in the running for the runner-up spot in Group B. If she loses to Marin in straight games, she is out of the tournament, regardless of whether Sun Yu beats Yamaguchi in two games or three. Even if she wins one game against Marin, she has to pray that Yamaguchi does not take a game off Sun Yu.
Sadly, Sindhu has only herself to blame for having got herself into this invidious situation. If she had managed to grab at least one game against Sun Yu, she would have been much more in contention for a semifinal spot. Now she has to go all out to beat Marin, and hope that Sun Yu does not lose momentum against Yamaguchi.
Updated Date: Dec 16, 2016 15:39:59 IST