Giant-killer Pusarla Venkata Sindhu could hardly have asked for a more desirable semi-final opponent than the one she was pitted against, when lots for the clashes at the last-four stage of the BWF Superseries Finals were drawn, late on Friday night, at the Hamdan Sports Complex in Dubai.
Korea’s Sung Ji Hyun, who emerged unscathed from Group A of the women’s singles, will be crossing swords with the 21-year-old Indian on Saturday evening. The other semi-final will be contested between Chinese No 3 seed, Sun Yu, and the reigning world No 1 and top seed, Tai Tzu Ying of Chinese Taipei.
No doubt, at the business end of a major tournament, there are no “bunnies” left in the fray. Only the best and fittest survive from amongst those who did battle in the earlier rounds. Either inferior form on the day, or the lingering effects of an injury suffered earlier in the season, lead to the downfall of on-paper favourites along the way.
And so it has been in Dubai, which has witnessed Sung and Sun Yu remaining undefeated in their groups, while Tai and Sindhu have suffered a defeat each against the toppers of their respective pools, while they registered two wins each against redoubtable opponents. Players of the calibre of recent world champions Carolina Marin of Spain (2014 and 2015) and Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon (2013) have since exited the tournament.
The key statistic in determining the desirability of the semi-final rival is the fact that Sindhu has suffered defeats in her most recent meetings against both Tai (a straight-games pounding in the final of the Hong Kong Open last month) and Sun (again, a straight-games loss in their group clash of the BWF Superseries Finals, just two days ago), even as she emerged triumphant in her last encounter with Sung – the semi-final of the Taihot China Open, last month.
That gives Sindhu a psychological edge over the Korean, albeit a faint one, considering the trend and tenor of their China Open clash. Sindhu was a game down and trailed by three match points at 17-20 in the second stanza before pulling off a miraculous 11-21, 23-21, 21-19 victory in an 84-minute battle royal of wits and nerves. The record will show that the Indian went on to lower the colours of Sun in the title round, to win the crown in the latter’s own den.
In their career head-to-head, Sindhu has an impressive 6-3 advantage, including victories in three of their last four meetings, all in the course of 2016. A three-game triumph (21-19, 12-21, 21-10) for Sindhu in the Malaysia Masters in January was followed by a comprehensive (13-21, 14-21) defeat in the Happening Hyderabad Badminton Asia team championships in February.
They clashed again in April at the Axiata Malaysia Open, and Sindhu emerged victorious in straight games (22-20, 21-17), to put further distance between her and her Korean rival in the record of their career meetings. And most recent, of course, was that magnificent Homeric fightback from a near-hopeless position at the China Open. Neither player gave, nor asked for, any quarter until the final pulsating point was played in front of a delirious crowd that had backed the Korean for the most part.
Let it be known that the 25-year-old Sung – daughter of two former Korean internationals Sung Han Kook and Kim Yun Ja – is currently at the peak of her powers. A player who has no demonstrable weakness in her game, Sung is talented, swift on her feet, has a full repertoire of strokes, a tidy defence, better than adequate net play, and fitness to rival that of her semi-final opponent.
Sindhu’s advantages lie in her height (1.79 metres, five centimeters more than her rival) and reach that allow her to cover every corner of the court with ease, once she gets into her stride. Her net play has shown marked improvement this year, as she reaches the net earlier than before, and takes the shuttle higher to execute the dribble. Her weakness is the inability to parry hard pushes directed at her body – a shortcoming that Sun ruthlessly exploited in their match on Thursday.
Of late, Sindhu has shown a propensity to have starting trouble, and is prone to conceding a sizeable lead before she really hits her straps. That could cost her the opening game, as Sung literally hits the ground running. She must guard against making a tardy start.
Fortunately, the Gopichand Academy trainee has added a decent level of consistency to her game, after being unpredictable in the earlier years of her international career that began as far back as 2008, when she was a mere chit of a girl just into her teens. Very often, she would have difficulty closing out a match that she literally had in her pocket in two straight games, and would end up being stretched over the full distance.
For a player who barely managed to squeeze into the top eight to make the cut for the Superseries Finals, Sindhu has performed far better than her world ranking of 10 would suggest. Sung is currently ranked five places higher than Sindhu, but the momentum is with the lanky Indian, and she would appear to be a 60:40 favourite to barrel through for a final meeting with either Tai Tzu Ying or Sun Yu, and a chance to avenge recent defeats to them.
Indeed, the Olympics silver medallist looks all set to make a charge for the yellow metal.
Your guide to the latest election news, analysis, commentary, live updates and schedule for Lok Sabha Elections 2019 on firstpost.com/elections. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram or like our Facebook page for updates from all 543 constituencies for the upcoming general elections.
Updated Date: Dec 17, 2016 14:53:57 IST