When PV Sindhu lost the epic final of the 2017 BWF World Championships to Nozomi Okuhara, the Indian coaching staff had pin-pointed a few shortcomings in her game that the Japanese was able to exploit. They ranged from quick hand movement while playing the overhead strokes to her court coverage while going towards the net.
Some of those changes were quickly adapted as Sindhu beat the same opponent in the Korea Open final last year, but her overall approach towards her shot selection under pressure was a work in progress. Amidst all the talk about her failure to win a title since September 2017, the progress the 23-year-old had been making was probably lost.
But on Sunday at the Tianhe Gymnasium in Guangzhou, Sindhu finally managed to use most of what she has been doing in training when put under pressure by Okuhara to come out triumphant 21-19, 21-17 in an hour and one minute.
While Sindhu’s mental frailty in big finals was repeatedly talked about, India’s chief national coach Pullela Gopichand had focused on drilling in the game plan that she had to stick to against Okuhara ahead of the final. The former All England champion was happy that the 23-year-old could implement that effectively.
“I think overall although there have been lot of losses, it is not that the final jinx was there,” he said. “Maybe at some point there may have been a thought in her mind... and my mind. I think overall its just that she played better badminton. The strategy was good. We stuck to the strategy and that’s what mattered.”
The strategy was clearly to take the shuttle early and use the quick half smashes and drops when the shuttle was within her reach rather than going for a percentage game, while at the same time not going for expansive strokes when under pressure.
To Sindhu’s credit she not only implemented that game plan effectively during the final but also during the group stage against Akane Yamaguchi and the formidable Tai Tzu Ying, and also in the semi-final against Ratchanok Intanon, who was therefore forced to play more aggressively to look for points.
“To win the final is one thing but also the fact is that she beat players of quality getting here. Beating Tai Tzu Ying, Ratchanok, and the two Japanese girls in the same tournament is special,” said Gopichand, adding that the final triumph notwithstanding Sindhu had already achieved her target of finishing on the podium in major tournaments in 2018.
Speaking about the overall tournament, Gopichand was happy the way Sindhu approached every match and implemented the game plan. “The fact [is] that she has played each match positively. She has looked fresh. She has gone on the court and attacked the shuttle when required and showed patience when its required. I think I am overall happy the way she has been focused during the entire event.”
Staying in the moment
Sindhu herself spoke about how she had managed to stay in the moment even during the semi-final against Intanon, when the Thai shuttler piled on the pressure. “Couple of times when I was leading and she came back, I would be nervous before. But now I am comparatively much more stronger at it. Just focus on the next point,” she had said.
The level of confidence was probably down to more trust in her abilities and also the break she took before the World Tour Finals by opting out of the Syed Modi International. This season has been pretty hectic with the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games thrown in the mix and almost all Indian players have been complaining about the toll it has taken on them mentally and physically.
Sindhu had spoken about the same before the start of the tournament. “I had enough time to prepare this time. I hope I do well in this tournament. I am confident of giving my best. It is one of the biggest tournaments with all the top players and it will be tough but I really want to win it.”
The year 2019 would not be that hectic and Sindhu would get more time to prepare for major tournaments like the All England Open and the World Championships. If she continues to improve on those strokes and approach she has been working on, India can expect many more title triumphs from her in 2019.