Before PV Sindhu had managed to get the better of Nitchaon Jindapol and much before Nozomi Okuhara had taken the court for her second round encounter against Fitriani Fitriani, the commentators at the All England Open were salivating at the possibility of a rematch between the two World Championship finalists.
One of the commentators even went to the extent of calling that summit clash in Glasgow, about 500 km from Arena Birmingham, as the match of the century. And even though the two have faced-off twice after the World Championship final, the anticipation of another epic being around the corner is tantalising.
The All England quarterfinal may not be as big a stage as the World Championship final for either of the players. But Sindhu is desperate to re-write the record book that shows that the 22-year-old hasn’t progress beyond the last eight in the prestigious tournament so far while Okuhara is looking to find the title winning touch again after being troubled by a knee-injury.
But more than the occasion and the level of the tournament, it is just the way both the players go about their business on court – they rarely give up when things aren’t going their way – that makes their match worth watching.
In the nine matches Sindhu and Okuhara have played against each other, only two have finished in straight games... with not a single one lasting less that three quarters of an hour.
A lot of this comes down to the long rallies they indulge in. Okuhara, the world champion, is extremely quick on her feet while the Indian relies on her tall frame to reach every shuttle thrown her way.
Also interesting to note is that the tactics employed by Okuhara in her win over Sindhu at Glasgow have become a template of sorts for other players to follow against the Indian world number three.
And Jindapol almost pulled off an upset in the second round on Thursday doing exactly that. But unlike Jindapol, who made a lot of unforced errors while going for winners, Okuhara has enough patience to wait for her opportunities and more importantly the consistency of her strokes only increases as the match gets longer.
This means that Sindhu would not only have to fight harder and keep her focus longer than what she did against Jindapol but also try and ensure that she takes there is an opportunity to hit the winners.
And for that it would be important to see how the Indian recovers from the two long matches she has played in the tournament so far. While the long matches helps the player get more accustomed to the court conditions, there is no denying the fact that physical exhaustion can seep in and raise its head between a big match.
Since Glasgow, Sindhu has worked a lot on her hand speed and strokes to counter the exhaustion that taller players have to deal with due to the extra stress on their upper body while lunging and bending.
Those changes worked for her in the Korea Open final a few weeks about a month after the World Championship loss. But in their only other face-off before the All England quarters, Okuhara was much quicker than the Indian and reaped the benefits by ending the match in two games.
On Friday, it would be important for Sindhu to start strongly and set the tempo against a player who has been laid low due to fluid build up in her knee since the Japan Open in September last year and missed many tournaments including the BWF Superseries Finals. Though she has returned to the circuit now, she hasn’t really set the stage on fire.
When Sindhu was asked about making her fans nervous with the close matches she has been playing, the 22-year-old joked that she such matches are exciting and she was “providing some excitement to the fans.”
The coaches would be hoping that she manages to come up with a clinical performance and saves them the anxiety of yet another close encounter. But badminton fans won’t mind another classic between her and Okuhara at the Arena Birmingham that they can discuss till the next time they face off again.