After just two rounds of the All England Open, world No 3 PV Sindhu has already been on court for over two hours. The 22-year-old has played gruelling three-game matches against Thai shuttlers Pornpawee Chochuwong and Nitchaon Jindapol, and managed to come out on top on both occasions.

However, standing in the way of Sindhu and her first ever All England semi-final appearance is her old nemesis, Nozomi Okuhara of Japan. Considering how the last two of their encounters phased out, suffice to say not many other players would have been on court as much as Sindhu after the quarter-finals are over on Friday.

Sindhu’s two wins so far have been contrasting in how they panned out: she was trailing by a game against Chochuwong (narrowly losing the first game 20-22) before fighting back to take the next two, one more comfortably than the other (21-17 and 21-9).

Against Jindapol, though, Sindhu looked in control in the first game, winning it 21-13 without much fuss. But it is what happened after that which would be of concern to her and mentor P Gopichand ahead of what promises to be yet another exhausting match on Friday.

Drop in intensity

After winning the first game rather comfortably 21-13, which included some good reflexes and backhand flicks to get the shuttle back in her opponent’s court, Sindhu seemed to drop her intensity a bit in the second.

Despite the scoreline, Jindapol continued with her attacking game and peppered the Indian with smashes, a lot of them targeting Sindhu’s body. The Thai also kept Sindhu guessing with some smart shots such as the reverse slice, taking all the speed out of the shuttle and having it drop just far enough from the tall Indians’s reach.

Sindhu tried hard to turn things around after the interval in the second game but the Thai’s speed enabled her to hold on to win it 21-13 and force a decider. Sindhu’s intensity and drive was back in the final game and, even though Jindapol managed to take a sizeable 16-12 lead, the Indian maintained a positive body language and did not let the scoreline affect her mentally.

Sindhu won the next five points with some smart badminton of her own – she drew Jindapol forward and then unleashed the overhead smash. The Thai tends to make mistakes when the pressure is on and all Sindhu had to do was to keep the errors from her side at bay. At 20-18 to Sindhu, then, it was another unforced error – a lazy tap into the net – from the world No 11 that handed Sindhu the match.

Despite the win, Sindhu would know that she could and should have wrapped up the match in two games. By dropping her intensity and losing some of her focus after winning the first game, Sindhu allowed herself to be taken advantage of. She managed to eventually take the match in the end but against a tougher opponent – like Okuhara in the next round – she may not have such liberties.

Different challenge

The Japanese will bring forward a completely different challenge compared to the Thai players. Last year, Okuhara and her compatriot Akane Yamaguchi, who beat Sindhu in the Dubai World Superseries Finals, had provided a tutorial on how to tackle tall players such as Sindhu. Armed with a supreme retrieving game, they made Sindhu cover all corners of the court at a fast pace, eventually squeezing every drop of juice out of her and forcing her to make errors.

Okuhara is unlikely to unleash smashes towards Sindhu like Jindapol did. The Japanese will most likely focus her energies on engaging Sindhu in long rallies and make her run around the court by using aggressive tosses and cross-court drops.

Sindhu will have to play the game of patience and try to control the shuttle in the longer rallies. She will have to be far more efficient at the net and play with quick hand-speed, like she had done in the Korea Open match last year when she got the better of the Japanese. In short, Sindhu will need a lot of fuel to stay on her legs long enough on Friday. But after two long matches already, does she have enough left in the tank?

Luckily for Sindhu, her quarter-final against Okuhara is the fifth match on Court 1 on Friday. Play begins at 10 am local time (3.30 pm IST), which means the match should start around 2 pm (7.30 pm IST). Sindhu has got just under 24 hours to recover from two back-to-back three-game matches, which is more than what others have got in the past.

However, Okuhara is likely to be as fresh as a daisy considering she won both her matches so far in straight games and pretty comfortably at that. Despite the fact that the Japanese returned to the circuit earlier this year after an injury layoff towards the end of 2017, nothing less than Sindhu’s A-game will be required to overcome her old nemesis.