A common refrain of coaches: how you start is how you finish.
In the semi-finals of the India Open on Saturday, at the Siri Fort courts in New Delhi, both PV Sindhu and South Korea’s Sung Ji Hyun would be hoping to book a place in the final. Both haven’t lost a game yet in the tournament. If Sindhu dispatched Saina Nehwal in a highly emotional battle, Sung battled hard and prevailed over reigning champion and fifth seed Ratchanok Intanon, 20-16, 22-20. Ratchanok pointed towards a dodgy ankle but that doesn't take away from the fact that the Korean is playing beautifully, and what might be important against Sindhu, covering the court extremely well.
The emotional baggage for Sindhu has been set aside. More than the tournament, the central theme was the Sindhu vs Saina clash. Now the lanky Hyderabadi girl is free to take on an opponent she leads 6-4 in head-to-head clashes.
Tactically, this will be a match where rallies might come into play. Both have played four matches that have gone to three games; both Sindhu and Sung have won two each. In terms of statistics, both are almost on an equal footing. If something would bother Sindhu’s camp, it's that on a larger stage, the South Korean has prevailed. Sung has won the Denmark Open, the 2015 World Championships and at the Dubai World Series final. Pyschologically, the India Open may not be a Super Series Premier tournament but in front of Indian fans, apart from skills, you need to circumvent the tidal wave of emotion which opponents feel when playing either Saina or Sindhu.
Going back to the Dubai World Series, the first and third game losses came on the baseline for Sindhu. Crucial points were lost trying to engage in rallies when there was space to confine play to the net and bring in pressure to unsettle Sung. But, honestly, Sindhu after the Rio Olympics, seems like a colossus. At the age of 21, Sindhu has a good five-six years to dominate the world stage. After beating Saina, Sindhu said, “It’s not something special with Saina that I have to win.”
It wasn’t an athlete’s arrogance. But the overpowering confidence Sindhu feels at the moment against opponents. Daley Thompson, the 1980 and 1984 Olympic decathlon champion once said, “Even if you are beaten in a competition, walk and behave like the winner will have doubts whether he actually won the competition.” Sindhu is in that zone.
Sung is at the moment standing between a possible Rio Olympics final replay, provided Carolina Marin also wins her semi-final clash. The South Korean has the shots and the plus point is her staying power. After her first round win, she said, “I am playing well here and the toughest opponents will be the Indians if I face them.” Speaking on her form, she said, “I have played better but I think if I reach the semi-finals, then I will be a tougher opponent.” Both her parents are badminton champions. Her mother, Kim Yun Ja won the All England titles in both singles and doubles while her father Sung Han Kook won the bronze at the Asian Games and the All England. Pedigree is not an issue here.
Sindhu has never won the India Open. And that’s a huge motivation for her to reach the final, apart from the fact that she would hope Marin reaches too and in front of the home crowd, she can have her revenge for the Olympics final loss. In terms of play, Sindhu if not in top form, is playing without any niggling injury and is controlling the play. In the second game against Saina, it was apparent that Sindhu would take it away, even though she said later that “at 20-20, it is anybody’s game”.
Shot selection at crucial junctures is what Sindhu’s game is modelled on. She never shies away from playing a shot that maybe risky to those sitting outside. But she takes that decision based on the fact that she can go through with it. It’s not a last ditch shot decision. It’s thought out. Yes, in modern sport, decisions can go wrong or the opponent has the exact answer for the stroke. In the semi-final, Sindhu will not be seen playing safe.
On Saturday, perfectly placed and playing the last singles of the day, Sindhu will have the vociferous support of fans hoping to see her win. At this moment of time, she is part of the national consciousness. It won’t be easy. But there will be a feast of stroke play from both shuttlers. Sung’s net dribble is wonderfully executed and one hopes to see the reach of Sindhu tackling it and sending it back tumbling across the thread of the net. There will be rallies and counterstrokes with an array of overhead drop shots. All in all, the balance is in favour of PV Sindhu. All she has to do is come on court and execute her plan well.
Matches begin at 2pm with Sindhu playing the last singles.
Updated Date: Apr 01, 2017 15:15 PM