There were two points in the 81-minute encounter between PV Sindhu and Sung Ji Hyun that would have left the former wondering whether it was just not her day.
The first came in the second game with Sindhu trailing 9-12. The fifth seed had controlled the rally brilliantly till that point and opened up the entire forehand court on Sung’s side of the court for a winner. But her round the head smash simply sailed over the back line.
Over to the decider, with both players locked at 9-9, Sindhu pushed the Korean to the back and had the entire court to hit the winner. Sung had to pick one side in anticipation and the 23-year-old Indian hit the shuttle to the other but once again, the shuttle landed behind the back line.
On both occasions, Sindhu could do nothing more but look at her coaching staff in despair.
To her credit, she fought back on both occasions. First, the fifth seed from India saved three match points in the second game to take the match in the decider and then saved five of seven match points in the third before a push in the net ended the fightback and subjected her to a fourth first-round loss in her seventh All England appearance.
If Sindhu was to be ranked on the basis of her fighting spirit and never say die attitude she would still take home 9 out of 10 points. But the execution of her skills when they mattered the most let her down.
And Sindhu was partially right in blaming her luck in the post-match comments when she said, “I think it was just my bad luck or it was just not my day because my mid court smashes were going in the net. And when I was hitting a tap, some how she was taking it,” she told reporters.
But the other contributing factor to the loss was the tentative play from the two-time world championship silver medallist that led to plenty of errors on her round the head and backhand strokes.
Sindhu has always been a slow starter, especially in bigger tournaments. And facing an opponent known for her anticipation and tactical acumen in the slower court conditions at Arena Birmingham was always going to be a difficult opener.
However, watching Sindhu being so tentative with her strokes and movement on the round the head shots, one was left wondering what was really going on.
She was similarly tentative at the senior nationals in Guwahati last month and many coaches gave her the benefit of doubt saying she was probably still getting used to the new racquet and shoes after changing her equipment sponsors just a week ago.
But top players need just a couple of weeks to adjust to these changes and if the 23-year-old is still feeling her way then it is really surprising because she didn’t have any problems while playing the half smash or the sliced drops from forehand.
It was the round the head shots or the backhand drives that Sindhu struggled to execute and her judgement on the backhand side line and back line, just like it was in Guwahati, was extremely suspect.
Out of the six times she tried to judge the shuttle in the match on the backhand side, only once did it fall out. And that is a pretty bad percentage for any top player.
It’s quite possible that Sindhu felt the weight of expectations as she was considered one of the pre-tournament favourites along with world number one Tai Tzu Ying. Though the 23-year-old is now experienced enough to handle such situations, the first match of a major event can be a tricky affair.
When everything was lost and Sindhu was only looking to save match points, she did change gears and forced her opponent out of the comfort zone.
One probably shouldn’t read too much into a loss early in the season against an opponent who is clearly looking a lot fitter and faster at the start of this new season. But having seen Sindhu put up two tentative performances in successive matches, maybe it’s time she gives a bit more thought to the root cause of the problem rather than just blame it on luck.