PV Sindhu didn’t have Plan B to strike back

26 May,2024 07:11 AM IST |  Mumbai  |  Shirish Nadkarni

How can one analyse this setback in Sindhu’s fortunes in the run-up to the Paris Olympics, less than three months from now

PV Sindhu returns to Wang Zhi Yi in Kuala Lumpur yesterday. Pic/Getty Images

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Sitting pretty with a commanding 11-3 lead at the half-way stage of the third and deciding game of the Malaysia Masters Super 500 badminton championship women's singles final, Pusarla Venkata Sindhu looked all set to win her first international title since the Singapore Open in mid-2022.

Alas, it was not to be. After switching ends to what was the "bad" side in Kuala Lumpur's Axiata Arena, with a diabolical cross drift taking the shuttle persistently out at both the baseline and the backhand sideline, Sindhu's game degenerated and confidence unravelled in alarming fashion, to allow World No. 6, Wang Zhi Yi of China, to sprint to the title.

Deserving victory

The second seed bagged 18 of the final 23 points for a richly deserved 16-21, 21-5, 21-16 triumph. If there was something in the 79-minute title encounter that was worth remarking about, it was Wang's fluid mobility, resolute defence, mental strength and remarkable fitness. The 24-year-old Jingzhou native was able to employ to the hilt her five-year age advantage over her gangling Indian opponent, who turns 29 on July 5.

The result of the eagerly-awaited clash brought to nought the fervent expectations of the legion of Sindhu's fans who had prayed that their idol would do something she has been unable to do since her 2019 World Championship triumph in Basle - beating three top-ranked players on successive days, on the way to the title.

Whereas the Indian had scored over such stalwarts as Taiwan's Tai Tzu Ying, China's Chen Yu Fei and Japan's Nozomi Okuhara on the final three days of that memorable World Championship, her charge towards the 2024 Malaysian Masters crown was halted in its tracks after noteworthy victories over China's top seeded Han Yue (World No. 5) and Thailand's Busanan Ongbamrungphan (World No. 20).

How can one analyse this setback in Sindhu's fortunes in the run-up to the Paris Olympics, less than three months from now?

Also Read: Sindhu & Co face tough medal hunt

Control over strokes needed

For one thing, Sindhu needs to exercise greater control over her strokes when playing with the drift. Her woeful performance in the second game (just five points out of 26) and the second half of the decider (five points out of 23) painted her in an indifferent light in this department; and she needs to be mindful of this shortcoming.

For another, she needs to work even harder on her physical fitness, which admittedly has improved since she started training under the 1980 All England champion, Prakash Padukone, but is not at the level it was during the 2019 Basle World Championships.

Once she lost five points in a row from 11-3 in the decider, she looked increasingly fatigued, and her strokeplay suffered when Wang got literally everything back.

Sindhu tried playing the patient toss-drop game, but did not have a Plan B when that tactic failed to work in the face of a stream of accurate returns from the nimble Chinese. Towards the end, Sindhu had slowed to a near-standstill.

What she may consider trying at the Singapore Open, two days from now, is the famous Lin Dan tactic - that of suddenly altering the pace and tempo of the game and playing two to three points at a blinding pace, to catch the opponent off-guard. Today, nothing else would have worked against the younger, more resolute Wang.

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