New Delhi: A slew of net errors and stunning double comeback from He Bingjiao meant that India's representation at the India Open women's singles ended at the semi-final stage on Saturday. The Chinese left-hander defeated Sindhu 23-21, 21-18 in 55 minutes, silencing a partisan home crowd and leaving the 23-year-old with significant questions over her temperament in high-pressure situations.
Bingjiao, who came into Saturday's semi-final with an 8-5 win-loss record over Sindhu, started well, her left-handed angles putting the World No 6 in awkward positions. Soon, however, errors began to creep in Bingjiao's backhand, and her returns started going long.
Sindhu crept to an 11-8 lead, which soon became 14-11 and after she landed a smash on a limp Bingjiao toss, the lead swelled to 16-11.
At 16-12, the Chinese hit a flat crosscourt return and Sindhu expertly let it go. 17-12, and the momentum seemed firm with the home favourite. Bingjiao got one back but Sindhu won next two to assert her authority. At 19-12, it was Sindhu's game to lose. Incredibly, she did.
In a stunning rearguard, Bingjiao won four points on the trot to bridge the gap to 19-16 before hitting a return long. Sindhu was on game point, but the momentum had shifted.
Struggling to get past Bingjiao's defence, Sindhu's flat return hit the net. 20-17. Another Sindhu error followed before Bingjiao won a long rally after a brutal drop shot caught the Indian on the wrong foot.
From 19-12, the lead was reduced to 20-19 as the noise levels hit the roof. Bingjiao stepped up again to make it 20-all, and the arena gasped. Finally, Sindhu won a dangerously close point at the net and let out a scream of relief. 21-20. Surely, she could get one more point and win the game that was there for the taking. Not tonight. Sindhu hit the net again, and the ordeal went on. 21-all.
The duo again played a close rally before Bingjiao beat her at the net, and when Sindhu tossed her racquet helplessly after netting another return, she knew the momentum had shifted. It took 29 minutes for Bingjiao to get past the Indian, but as evident from the eventual scoreline, it was worth it.
Having won her last three matches against Sindhu, she knew how to tackle her tall rival. The pressure was on, and it began to hold Sindhu in a vice-like grip. From 19-12 and 20-16, Sindhu had contrived to lose 23-21.
"I've been changing strategies, but today it was anybody's game in the first set where she got really lucky the last two points with net cords from her side," Sindhu later said.
"After the first game, I was a bit nervous, but I came back to 14-11. I think she played really well."
Bingjiao's response, when asked to comment on her first game, was typically terse. "I did not think much when I was losing the first game," she said via a translator. Clearly, the best strategy when pushed to the wall. Call her the cornered dragon if you will, but Bingjiao roared back with clinical ferocity in the second game, almost certain of the result.
Bingjiao lost the first two points, but came back in no time to lead 3-2. Sindhu's body language spelt frustration, and at one point, coach Pullela Gopichand was seen trying to pump her up. Sindhu looked out of sorts for the better part of the game, rattled perhaps by the unexpected first-game loss.
She still managed a few rasping smashes though, but Bingjiao ensured the lead was always in check. The pair went to the mid-game break with the Indian in the 11-9 lead, but as Bingjiao had shown in the first game, it meant very little.
She won two back to back points before erring twice to give a two-point lead to Sindhu. The scoreboard read 13-11. Then, a brutal Sindhu smash made it 14-11 before a return error made it 14-12. Sindhu worked her way to a 16-13 advantage, but then began the second round of rearguard from the indefatigable Chinese.
Almost on cue, Sindhu proceeded to commit a hat-trick of errors and Bingjiao moved to 16-all. The two women shared the next four points when a brace of return errors brought Bingjiao on match point. The 14-11 lead was now ages ago. Comebacks from such scorelines are not rare, but tonight was not the night. In an odd sort of finality, Sindhu hit her return long, ushering herself out of the tournament.
"I don't have much to complain, but maybe I can be much more patient," she would say.
To blame Sindhu alone though would be a disservice to Bingjiao's spirit. The Chinese showed the wherewithal to dig deep in her reserves and summon enough will to keep fighting. She didn't forget to acknowledge Sindhu's game either. "She (Sindhu) is a wonderful player, and today was a wonderful performance for her," Bingjiao, who will play Thailand's Ratchanok Intanon in the final on Sunday said.
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Updated Date: Mar 30, 2019 22:32:37 IST