Is PV Sindhu a complete shuttler?

Updated: Sep 01, 2019, 08:00 IST | Sanjay Sharma |

If PV Sindhu can crush and decimate the likes of Carolina Marin and Tai Tzu Ying just like she demolished Nozomi Okuhara, she can lay claim to be just that!

India's PV Sindhu celebrates after winning against Japan's Nozomi Okuhara women's singles final at the Badminton World Championships in Basel on August 25. Pic /AFP
India's PV Sindhu celebrates after winning against Japan's Nozomi Okuhara women's singles final at the Badminton World Championships in Basel on August 25. Pic /AFP

Sanjay Sharma

The incredible domination and mastery over all aspects in the World Championships finals against diminutive Nozomi Okuhara not only assured PV Sindhu of iconic status, but in many ways made her look a complete shuttler with no apparent weakness.

The tall Indian reminded me of a young Venus Williams — same sort of on-court demeanour, controlled aggression, strong, broad shoulders — to unleash powerful strokes.

Is Sindhu a complete player now, is a question that cropped up while analysing her domination in Basel. Or is there a vulnerability in her game to be exploited by her opponents? Not only does Sindhu's tall frame cause her to move easily and efficiently on court, it also ensures she catches the bird at its optimum height to unleash those scorching smashes that have now become her trademark shots.

Ironically, the same tall frame can pose problems in two areas, something that will need addressing by coach Kim Ji Hyun and chief national coach Pullela Gopichand. But first, the areas of strategy that made her so dominant at the World Championships, especially in the finals where the Indian ace decimated Okuhara in one the most one-sided matches ever seen at this level. Mind you, both players were in the Top 5 of the Badminton World Federation (BWF) rankings when they clashed in the final: Almost 85 to 90 per cent serves from Sindhu were orthodox — high and deep — ostensibly to invite an attack. A huge percentage of Sindhu's responses to Okuhara's returns on serves were sharp, crosscourt ones. These cross shots did not allow the Japanese player to get into any rhythm. She was always struggling to get behind the shuttle to hit any meaningful strokes. Obviously, this resulted in weak returns as the shuttle struggled to cross the first baseline.

Also, since the shuttles kept coming into the kill zone area, Sindhu hammered away with thunderbolt smashes into the body of Okuhara either for an outright point or forcing a weak high return between the net and service line of Sindhu's court. It was here that the Indian surprised us with lightning tap shots which came off a huge long jump-type movement that was spectacular to watch. Sindhu completely crushed any semblance of opposition or fightback the diminutive Okhuhara might have harboured.

A tall frame is good for shuttles coming around you as one can reach outwards and stroke the bird. But when it comes to bodyline drive shots coming straight into you, then a tall player like Sindhu will always be vulnerable. The reason is that longer arms take a fraction of a second longer to get behind the shuttle. A short-statured player with smaller reach will not be as cramped for space. So, hard-hitting, tall opponents like Caroline Marin who can force Sindhu into defence, will always pose problems. And highly deceptive players like Tai Tzu Ying, who almost defeated the Indian at Basel, will keep on wrong-footing Sindhu.

The centre of gravity for short players is low and grounded. Their body is more balanced. A tall player loses balance faster and takes time to adjust. These are two areas where Sindhu has to be careful. She has to find some answers along with the coaches. So, is Sindhu the most complete shuttler we have seen? Well, she is almost there. If she can crush and decimate the likes of Marin and Tai, like she demolished Okuhara, she can lay claim to be the most complete and comprehensive shuttler in the world. In the run up to the Tokyo Olympics, the shuttling queen from India will be hot favourite to win each tournament she plays in. Sindhu can do a lot of wall practice at high speed. Coach Kim Ji Hyun will know what I am talking about. Wall practice at high speed was pioneered by the South Koreans. That is how doubles genius Park Joo Bong, went on to win the World Cup, World Championships, Olympics and All England titles. Sindhu must practise playing a fair amount of doubles, specially doubles defence. In doubles, the shuttle keeps coming at you with tremendous speed. The low trajectory rallies help in sharpening reflexes. She can also practise bodyline defence against two hard hitters, one at the net and the other from the baseline. Here, the two in tandem repeatedly smash on her body while she tries to blunt the attack by countering the smashes with parallel net returns.

All the above can help her as far as speedy bodyline strokes are concerned. The second issue is more tricky. How to play against highly deceptive players. The only option is to practise against players who are naturally deceptive. Former National champion Chetan Anand comes to mind. Or Sai Praneeth, who won bronze at the World Championships. Both these men play deceptive strokes. It will be a task to find out who Sindhu can spar against on a regular basis — someone who can catch her on the wrong foot time and again. And yes, she has to keep on developing her own deceptive strokes as a counter to the likes of Tai Tzu Ying.

It may be ridiculous to tell a world champion how to train or even advise Gopichand, the best coach in the world right now. However, as a former National coach and international player, the above is a humble submission.

Five
Record number of World C'ship medals won by PV Sindhu

Sindhu's top titles before world c'ships gold

Olympics

2016 Silver
Rio, women's singles

World Championships

2018 Silver
Nanjing, women's singles

2017 Silver
Glasgow, women's singles

2014 Bronze
Guangzhou, women's singles

2013 Bronze
Copenhagen, women's singles

Asian Games

2018 Silver
Jakarta-Palembang, women's singles

2014 Bronze
Incheon, women's team

Commonwealth

2018 Gold
Gold Coast, mixed team

2018 Silver
Gold Coast, women's singles

2014 bronze
Glasgow, women's singles

The writer is a former India player

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